Mentally handicapped people dumped in cut-price homes

Patients are suffering as competition causes carers to slash costs, reports Roger Dobson
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Vulnerable mentally handicapped adults are being placed in the care of cut-price private homes by hard-up social services departments which can no longer afford to pay for the most rigorously monitored care.

According to Mencap, the leading charity for the mentally handicapped, many of the homes now preferred for placements are cheap because they spend little on staff training, inspection and management. The use of such homes follows a boom in private care. There are now 1,300 private homes looking after 14,000 people with learning disabilities in England and Wales, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year. Altogether 10,000 private homes are open for business, providing care for all the different kinds of needy people, from children to the elderly and disabled. The average cost of care of a mentally handicapped adult in a privately run home is pounds 500 a week.

Cutbacks by social services departments have meant that there has been a squeeze on available money and private homes are competing with one another to secure clients and therefore an income. Last month, the Independent on Sunday reported how one home owner was offering social workers pounds 1,000 a head for introductions of clients with learning disabilities.

James Churchill, chief executive of the Association for Residential Care, the umbrella charity for providers of care for people with learning disabilities, warned that the cost cutting will force out good providers. He said: "Quality of care is not immediately apparent to someone walking around a home, but the things you don't see are the quality of staff training and that kind of thing.

"There is no doubt that the pressure on people providing care is now so intense that they have to take a view that it is better to have someone at pounds 220 a week than no one at pounds 400. It does make it extremely difficult for people who want to provide long-term care.

"Purchasers will reap the whirlwind later on because bad care will drive out the good. If you are always cutting and cutting, eventually good providers - and I know of one or two already - will not want to be involved with that kind of service. I know of a number of charitable agencies which have been told the price and the level of service, and have not wanted to know. If cost is put before standards of care, quality will suffer."

David McCabe, divisional general manager of Mencap, which is considered to offer some of the best care in the country for people with learning disabilities, says some of its homes have been undercut by as much as pounds 150 a week by other homes competing for business.

He said: "There is no doubt that homes are now being picked because of the charges rather than the care. Once a home is selected, the social workers will satisfy themselves that the quality is of a standard they can live with, but because of the pressures on them ,they don't look for a real quality service."