To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what safeguards there are to ensure the highest standards of care are practised in private care homes for the elderly. 
Under the terms of the Registered Homes (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, homes in the private and voluntary sectors which seek to provide care for older people must register with the Registration and Inspection Unit of their local Health and Social Services Board. To be successful in registration, the person in charge of the home and manager, if different, must be fit persons, the premises used, staffing or equipment must be suited to the purpose and the home must be run in such a way that it provides the services or facilities that are reasonably required. Further, in the case of a nursing home, the person in charge must either be a medical practitioner or a qualified nurse and the staff skills-mix and deployment must ensure that appropriate staff are available on duty. Conditions may be applied to registration so as to safeguard the quality of the service to be provided and a home may only provide the service for which it is registered. A home must make application to the Registration and Inspection Unit if it wishes to vary the service that it provides. In addition, homes must maintain specified records and these along with the care they provide is subject to inspection by the Board's Registration and Inspection Unit. Under the Registered Homes Regulations (N.I.) 1993, there is a minimum requirement for homes to be inspected at least twice yearly and generally one of these inspections is unannounced. During the inspections the premises and care are measured against standards set by the Registration and Inspection Unit relating to the quality of care, management and the environment of the home together with the life experiences of the residents. Standards are drawn from the Department's Social Services Inspectorate guidance contained in documents such as "Standards for Residential Homes for Elderly People", "Inspecting for Quality" and "Homes are for Living In". There is a requirement under the Registered Homes Regulations for homes to make adequate arrangements to ensure that appropriate activity programmes are in place to meet the needs of residents.Any shortfalls which are identified during inspections are brought to the attention of home managers at the time of the inspection and also through official inspection reports together with recommendations on how the shortfalls might be addressed. Where necessary, additional visits are arranged to make sure that recommendations are addressed or that any complaint received has been addressed.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what means are used to standardise services at private care homes for the elderly. 
The Registration and Inspection Units of each Health and Social Services Board are responsible for evaluating and monitoring the quality of care provided and the quality of life experienced in statutory, private and voluntary sector residential settings. The Units are responsible for ensuring that a consistent approach is taken to the inspection of statutory, private and voluntary sector provision and they are required to carry out a minimum of two inspections each year, one announced and one generally unannounced, of each residential care home and nursing home in the Board area. The inspection reports, the comparative analysis of trends in care home provision and Annual Reports by the Registration and Inspection Units all contribute to establishing and monitoring of standards of care in residential settings.The Health and Personal Social Services (Quality, Improvement and Regulation) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 will create a new independent HPSS Regulation and Improvement Authority which will operate on a regional basis and, among other things, take over the functions of the current Registration and Inspection Units. The Order also allows for the introduction of minimum care standards and the development of clinical and social care governance, the latter underpinned by a statutory duty of quality. The Order, combined with a strengthening of the regulation of the workforce should offer powerful safeguards for the quality and consistency of services to be provided.