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Minister promises new checks on elderly care

The ordeal faced by the grandmother of the Independent columnist Johann Hari as she was shunted between residential homes over 10 years was condemned as appalling last night by the Care Services minister.

Paul Burstow urged people with complaints about the treatment of relatives to come forward – and disclosed he was planning tougher protection for the elderly against abuse. Mr Burstow said: "What happened to Johann Hari's grandmother shouldn't happen to anyone's grandmother. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and kindness when they need care."

He added: "We all need to be vigilant about abuse. I am currently reviewing arrangements for protecting vulnerable adults to ensure everyone plays their part keeping people safe from those who would exploit and harm them."

Mr Burstow said that anyone worried about low-quality care should report it to the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which had been given extra powers to crack down on poorly-run homes. He also said he was determined to tackle concerns over the use of antipsychotic drugs.

Ministers have said they want to want to give the CQC more teeth. It stipulates that care home staff should have the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience to look after residents. Where staff are judged wanting by the regulator, companies that run care homes can have their licences to operate cancelled and face prosecution.

The Registered Nursing Home Association warned yesterday that care homes – which rely on council funding for around two-thirds of their income – could be forced to cut spending on staffing, food or activities because of the cash squeeze facing the sector. Frank Ursell, its chief executive officer, said: "People talk about quality but then they pay peanuts. What is it exactly that they expect?"