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Care Homes: Private Sector

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps his Department is taking to increase the protection of elderly people living in private care homes; and if he will make a statement. (163853)

The Government regard the abuse of vulnerable and older people in any setting as unacceptable in all its forms and are determined to root it out. We are addressing the issue in a variety of ways.

We set out standards for care and treatment for the national health service and social care services via the National Service Frameworks for Older People and Mental Health and the White Paper, Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability.

We introduced regulations and national minimum standards for care homes, domiciliary care agencies and adult placements. These are intended to ensure vulnerable and older people can live in a safe environment, where their rights and dignity are respected, staff are properly trained and care is of the requisite quality. The regulations and national minimum standards apply equally to all providers of care, whether in the private, voluntary or public sectors.

We have created independent regulators, the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) and the Healthcare Commission, and given them the powers they need to take action against poorly performing providers or where abuse occurs. Ultimately, they have the power to close services down. All providers of care, including private care homes are legally required to register with and be inspected and regulated by CSCI.

We expect local authorities to play their part. No Secrets, published by the Department in 2000 provides a complete definition of abuse and a framework for councils to work with the police, the national health service and regulators to tackle abuse and prevent it from occurring. On June 14 this year, I also announced a review of the No Secrets guidance. The case for legislation to protect vulnerable adults will be considered as part of the review.

Local authorities have been given specific responsibilities. Statutory guidance issued in May 2006 required them to ensure that Directors of Adult Social Services maintain a clear organisational and operational focus on safeguarding vulnerable adults and that relevant statutory requirements and other national standards are met, including Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) requirements. Local authorities must make sure the Director of Adult Social Services has the powers and resources necessary to encourage a culture of vigilance against the possibility of adult abuse.

We introduced the POVA Scheme in July 2004, under the provisions in Part 7 of the Care Standards Act 2000, which requires staff who provide personal care to older people in their own homes or in care homes to be subject to statutory checks, including checks of their criminal record. At the heart of the POVA scheme is the POVA list, which operates as a workforce ban and prevents dangerous or unscrupulous people from gaining access to older and vulnerable people in care homes or being cared for in their own homes. Only the employers in regulated social care services or the regulator, CSCI, can make referrals to the POVA list.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005, which came into force on 1 October 2007, introduces a new criminal offence of ill treatment or wilful neglect of a person who lacks capacity.

The Government support the work of Action on Elder Abuse (AEA). AEA has been awarded a Section 64 grant, totalling £360,000. This grant covers the three year period from 2007 to 2009 and is to help fund central administrative costs, which will include their freephone helpline for anyone concerned in any way about the abuse of older people.

We are introducing a new centralised vetting and barring scheme for people working with children and vulnerable people. This scheme, as set out in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, will extend the coverage of existing barring schemes, such as POVA and draw on wider sources of information to provide a more comprehensive and consistent measure of protection for vulnerable groups across a wide range of settings, including the whole of social care and the NHS. The new scheme will make it far more difficult for abusers to gain access to some of the most vulnerable groups in society and will be a significant step forward.