LAST YEAR Takare, the organisation that Keith Bradshaw co- founded and now chairs, made nearly pounds 15m profit. Mr Bradshaw bridles at any suggestion that this leaves him and his company, whose core activity is caring for highly dependent elderly people, ripe for criticism.

'When people say, 'you're imposing business disciplines on care', I say, 'of course we are' and we're proud of imposing business disciplines,' he says.

'We specialise in a low-tech area of medicine and deploy capital and management. If we do our job efficiently as businessmen, we take a burden away from the National Health Service for it to concentrate on primary and acute care. The idea that it would be better if a private operator lost money is ludicrous.'

Takare, based in Telford, Shropshire, has been Britain's leading provider of private nursing home care since 1985. It has 43 homes and 6,000 beds, and intends to have 20,000 beds by 2000. Each home is a purpose-built single storey unit with 30 beds (apart from in the South East, where the cost of land led to a two-storey design). Patients have their own rooms.

Mr Bradshaw believes that the way forward for the care of the elderly is through the private sector, provided it can combine high standards with administrative efficiency, and blend value for the public purse with compassionate care for the patients.

He has what might be considered a surprising supporter in Jeff Rooker, Labour MP for Perry Barr, Birmingham, Mr Bradshaw's home city. Mr Rooker opened Takare's newest nursing home, Perry Locks, last week, after choosing another Takare home for a close friend and, before her death, his mother. Mr Rooker said ownership of an establishment should not affect the quality of care or rights for residents or staff.

The private nursing home sector has never been far from controversy. Last month the Royal College of Nursing called for police checks on applicants seeking to set up or run private nursing homes after its report on standards of inspection said there was 'a worrying lack of scrutiny and audit'.

In a separate move an all-party committee of MPs is to hold an inquiry into the Government's plans to end the right of elderly patients to receive long-term care funded by the NHS. The point of agreement is that the elderly population is growing and somehow has to be cared for.

Mr Bradshaw maintains that there is not the slightest doubt that care today is better, and getting dramatically better across all the sectors. He adds: 'The good private operators have pulled up standards and value in the public sector just as they have in the private and voluntary sector.'

Takare's policy is to designate homes for particular groups of patients, including the elderly medically infirm, the mentally handicapped, the young chronically sick and the physically disabled. Its buildings have what Mr Bradshaw calls 'Coronation Street locations'.

'That's where the residents and staff are to be found, not up cart tracks in leafy suburbs. If it's to be care in the community, we have to be in that community.'