Letter: Be fair to private homes for elderly

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Sir: Warning bells rang when I read that Stephen Dorrell's White Paper was proposing to privatise council homes for the elderly (report, 10 March).

My husband has Alzheimer's disease. All the literature recommends that it is best for both sufferer and family if respite care can be found in a home where eventually it can turn, almost imperceptibly, into permanent care. A person with dementia can still sense the "feel" of a familiar place - and continuity is vital. With regular breaks, we carers can continue to plod on, caring at home, each of us saving the health service thousands of pounds a year. Social services recognise this and earmark beds in council- run homes for emergency or planned respite care.

In the private sector, however, decisions are finance-led. For example, I was delighted to find that a new and attractive home (which has already worked closely with the local mental hospital to take some long-stay patients) had a number of beds allocated to early-onset dementia. Delighted, that is, until I was told: "Sorry, no respite care beds available." Why? They are a financial risk. All beds need to be occupied all the time to make a profit.

So with the health service already cutting down on its respite care provision, and Mr Dorrell lining up social services and the homes they run for privatisation, who will safeguard the interests of patients not yet ready for continuing care - and of their carers, desperate for some respite?

BARBARA POINTON

Thriplow, Cambridgeshire

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