Care homes for the elderly come under scrutiny

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An investigation was launched yesterday into whether elderly people are getting a fair deal in care homes.

John Bridgeman, Director-General at the Office of Fair Trading, said there was enormous "potential for detriment" among those going into care homes. But, he said, despite more than 150 reports into the sector, worth pounds 5bn a year, nobody had looked at care-home issues from the consumer's point of view.

An estimated 500,000 pensioners live in nursing and residential homes across Britain, and the number is expected to rise by 25,000 over the next five years. The study Mr Bridgeman launched yesterday will focus on whether residents are given contracts setting out terms and conditions when they enter homes, and what mechanisms are in place to enable them to complain once they are in. Residents in Britain's 17,000 care homes, private and public, are being asked to write to the Office of Fair Trading with their experiences. Mr Bridgeman said the inquiry could find there was no cause for concern, but, he added, elderly people were often reluctant to complain and it was vital that their interests were safeguarded. The review is expected to finish next spring.