Leaders say standards are improving amid warnings about poor care

Photo: PA

Photo: PA - Credit: PA

Norfolk County Council has insisted standards are improving in the county's care homes after a new report suggested almost one in three care homes in Norfolk and Suffolk were deemed to be unsatisfactory.

Old people's charity Independent Age warned poor standards risked leaving the elderly and their families with little choice of quality care in places amid new analysis based on the Care Quality Commission (CQC) watchdog which found five local authorities nationally had more than half of its care homes rated 'inadequate' or 'requires improvement'.

In Norfolk and Suffolk the situation was not as dire. In Norfolk there were still 29.7pc of care homes rated inadequate or requires improvement, while in Suffolk the figure was 29.2pc, according to the report.

The charity said the variation in quality was caused by low levels of funding by local authorities, difficulties recruiting staff, and low pay, as well as a lack of a support mechanism for improving struggling care homes.

Dennis Bacon, chairman of Norfolk Independent Care which represents independent care providers in Norfolk, warned that there was a degree of subjectivity around the ratings and there would be people who had relatives at care homes which were not rated at the required standard who might be quite happy because failings might not be in the areas recognised as being the most important.

But he said that Norfolk County Council was working with people in the voluntary and independent sectors to raise standards, while continuing to warn quality was suffering as a result of under funding.

'They [Norfolk County Council] need to pay more money, but they are responding by working in a collegiate way to work with the providers that are struggling, rather than jumping all over them,' he added.

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Norfolk County Council said it was not its policy to make new placements in homes which had been rated as 'inadequate' and its priority was to make sure that people in care homes across Norfolk had a safe place to live.

'We understand that families want the peace of mind of knowing that their loved ones are well looked after. Although we do not run care homes directly, we are working hard with providers to hold them to account where standards fall short, as this is unacceptable.'

But a spokesman pointed out there had been a rise in standards over the last year with 61pc of nursing homes and 70pc residential care homes in Norfolk now rated as 'good', compared to 47pc and 61pc a year ago

It is currently running a pilot scheme with 25 services to drive up CQC ratings and helping with education and training.

Mark Von Haartamn, owner and managing director of The Care Company UK Ltd in King's Lynn which provides domiciliary care, who is also a member of steering group of Norfolk Independent Home Care Group, said the challenges facing the care sector across the board were enormous.

He said local authorities were trying to buy a product they couldn't afford to buy, and the cost of providing social care had risen dramatically with the rise in the living wage.

He warned there was a stigma attached to care work, even though it would be a rewarding job and many people would go home with a smile on their face because they knew they were helping others, but said many British people were reluctant to take on the work meaning they were forced to recruit a high contingent of foreign workers

'Our carers start work at 6.30am. They don't finish until 11pm at night.

He said the care workers were no longer unskilled workers and were expected to take on many of the jobs district nurses used to do.

'The problem is it is just as easy to get a job on a check-out but for the same money as to go and do the kind of work we are doing.'

He said care workers were now providing acute care, end of life care and other specialised care in a way they were not before which added to the costs.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: 'While 77pc of care services inspected by the independent Care Quality Commission in England are rated good or outstanding, we want to see those standards replicated everywhere - and places that are not up to scratch will have to improve or risk being closed down.

'To ensure care improves for all older people, we are providing councils with an extra billion pounds of funding this year.'