HC Deb 17 June 1981 vol 6 cc1032-3 3.56 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the provisions of the Residential Homes Act 1980.

The purpose of my Bill is to strengthen the present system of registration and inspection of private and voluntarily run homes for the elderly. The latest figures that I have show that in 1978 there were 2,020 private homes and 1,088 voluntary homes in England and Wales. Those figures and my Bill exclude private medical nursing homes. My Bill would also exclude homes run by local authorities.

The problem is that with the number of elderly people in the community —particularly the very elderly —increasing very rapidly, the strain on the already limited residential sector is likely to increase, and could lead to a lowering of standards. I want to stress as strongly as I can that bad practice in residential care is the exception rather than the rule. I should, perhaps, also disclose that my mother is in a residential home, where the standard of care and attention is of the highest. My Bill has nothing to do with her or my personal circumstances. The law is vague and complex, and the very elderly, who are often vulnerable, are not always adequately protected by it.

First, I want to put a 12-month limit on registration. At present, once a local authority grants registration it is rarely queried again, and it is withdrawn only if the local authority proves in a court that a home or its proprietor is unfit. An annual review should be mandatory. I want to see an annual inspection, as a minimum, to ensure that checks are made on such factors as staff changes, which sometimes also change the running of a home since first registration. On its annual inspections the local authority should be able to make recommendations for improvements and have some means of ensuring that such improvements are carried out. At present, local authorities have other pressing duties, and sometimes inspections occur only rarely.

I am unhappy about some reports that we receive on the quality of care. As a nation, under present legislation we concentrate on physical criteria rather than quality of care. It is often difficult to define quality of care, but basic standards, such as minimum room temperatures, should be laid down by the registration authorities.

A report by the Council on Care for the Elderly recently found that after regular visits to such homes 5 per cent. were distinctly unsatisfactory. They appeared dirty, unfriendly and cold. My Bill would give powers to the local community health council to make visits at any time to check that minimum standards of care were being given.

Voluntary organisations, such as Age Concern, have been pressing for many years for the tightening of the legislation. The Department of Health and Social Security recently issued regulations similar to those that I have outlined, but for private nursing homes. The regulations will come into effect on 1 August. I hope that similar recommendations and provisions will be made by the Government for private and voluntary residential homes. I understand that consultative proposals will be issued soon, by the Department of Health and Social Security.

In the meantime, my Bill would give a measure of protection to those who are frail, elderly and sometimes in the hands of unscrupulous operators. They may be in the minority but they exist, and old people farming is a reprehensible activity. These old people are often of slender means and cannot afford to shop around for somewhere else. They cannot complain for fear of reprisals. Alone, often abandoned by their families —if they have any —they are some of the most vulnerable and under-privileged in our society. My Bill would give them a measure of humanitarian protection and, as such, I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Richard Alexander, Mr. Bob Dunn, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. Stephen Ross and Mr. Michael Welsh.