Inquiry 'to lift lid' on elderly care crisis

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The Independent Online

A landmark public inquiry opens today into the death of an 88-year-old woman days after she was forced to move from her care home because of a rise in fees.

Campaigners say that the inquiry, the first of its kind, will "lift the lid" on the crisis in long-term care of the elderly.

Violet Townsend died on 11 February, five days after leaving her nursing home. Gloucestershire social services had refused to pay a £12-a-day increase despite warnings from her GP, Iain Jarvis, that moving would "considerably reduce" her life expectancy.

He said Mrs Townsend died from a chest infection and "acute stress and reaction" brought on by the move from the home she had lived in for eight years. The inquiry, ordered by Gloucestershire County Council in the wake of Mrs Townshend's death, will look at how rising fees and shortages of places are causing many elderly and frail care home residents to be moved.

Research by the Conservatives last year suggested 250 elderly people were being moved from homes every week. Care homes have been closing at the rate of 600 a year, with 20,000 beds lost in 18 months.

Increased regulation has prompted many homes to raise their fees, while local authorities have put limits on the rates they will pay. Mrs Townsend, known as Cissy, was handicapped by a serious stroke that had affected her speech. Social services had funded her place at Magdalen House in Gloucester, where she was happy and staff understood her speech, for eight years.

Earlier this year the home raised its fees from £375 to £463 a week. The local authority refused to pay and demanded that Mrs Townsend move to a cheaper home five miles away.

When Dr Jarvis was told of the move, he wrote to social services saying: "I really cannot express my horror at the proposal that Cissy be moved and my concern that if she is moved in this way, her life expectancy will be considerably reduced."

Mrs Townsend's niece, Freda Mills, said: "The Government can find the money for wars but our elderly people are left to fend for themselves."

Age Concern England has called for a national inquiry into the provision of care homes.

Stephen Lowe, a policy official at Age Concern, said: "We need to know the full extent of this scandal, because we know that Violet's death is not a one-off. Homes are closing because owners are selling them off to property developers or finding better ways to make money.

"The other problem is that new homes aren't opening, because of problems such as red tape. Local authorities are refusing to pay the fees because they say they do not have the funding from Government."