Care homes 'vindicated' in council row on fees
Care home operators claim they have been "vindicated" after a High Court judge ruled that Devon County Council failed to properly consult over fees for their services.
The authority has been ordered to pay half the costs of the claimants – four Devon care home providers – after the ruling that it acted unlawfully in setting fees for placing sick and elderly people in their care.
Devon County Council has said it has already changed the consultation process, and emphasised that Mr Justice Singh allowed the fees to stand, and agreed that the authority had paid proper regard to the cost of care, and the quality of care homes.
The Judicial Review was brought by Southern Healthcare (Wessex), South West Care Homes, South West Residential Homes, Forde Park Care and Palm Court Nursing Home.
Alan Beale, managing director of South West Care Homes and spokesman for all the claimants, said of the outcome: "This is a formal and public vindication of our claim and it has helped to clarify the issues involved in this case."
He said the group was left with "no other option" but to pursue a judicial review, and claimed the council resisted attempts to discuss the issues.
He said the cost of providing high quality care had "risen dramatically" in recent years, and said: "It is our absolute priority to provide high-quality care tailored to the needs of individual residents, giving them dignity and respect, and ensuring they have as much control over their care plan as possible.
"However, as well as rising costs to manage, we live in a part of the country with an ever-growing population of older people, many of whom have increasingly complex needs. Given that DCC froze the fees it paid for residents it placed in our care for two years in a row, it has been more and more difficult to maintain a high quality of care."
Stuart Barker, cabinet member for adult social care, told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday: "It has been a particularly difficult time because I have always felt that we were being fair to everybody within the confines that we have. Given the long history of this, I think this is a very good outcome for us. This is not about complacency. We have completely changed the way we consult."
The changes have already been incorporated into the way the council set its payments for the next financial year.
This year, they have risen by 6.6 per cent after a two-year freeze. But in 2009, a Laing and Buisson report into reasonable pay rates recommended a weekly payment of £665 for the highest bracket of a placement with nursing needs. The council currently pays £559.
Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, has won several High Court cases over care home funding in other parts of the country.
He said councils should draw money from health providers to boost the fees it can pay to homes, which save the NHS "a fortune". He said: "They should be drawing money from health sources, because we are saving them an enormous amount of cash, but also delivering a better service for the citizens in our care."
A Devon County Council spokesman said: "Our increase in fees for 2012/13 recognises the cost pressures being experienced by care providers, and are to help provide a stable future for the sector. We understand the pressures on the market, having first consulted widely with providers, and that is why we agreed in our budget setting earlier this year to the above inflation rise in fee levels."