High rents at West Sussex care homes cause concern

HIGH rents for privately owned care home properties could have serious repercussions in West Sussex, a county council cabinet member warned.

There was also a demand at a meeting of the West Sussex Joint Health Commissioning Board – which involves both the NHS and the county council – for a “watching brief” to be kept on the problems of the private sector, because it was outside local authority control.

Members were considering a report about extra Government cash being provided for West Sussex, intended for the care of the frail elderly.

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Priority areas were said to include action to improve the quality and viability of the private care home sector, to help reduce potential avoidable hospital admissions.

Councillor Michael Brown, county cabinet member for finance, said they seemed to have a responsibility, but very little power to discharge it in relation to the care home sector.

“The woes of the Southern Cross care home group have been much in evidence in the last week or two,” he told the board.

“But their problem is not shortage of income from clients such as West Sussex County Council, but too high a cost base, and in particular the cost base associated with the rental of their properties.

“The county council and the NHS have no power to intervene in the relationship between landlords and tenants to set their rents.

“How on earth do we discharge responsibilities to maintain a viable and healthy private sector if some of the root causes of their lack of virility are totally beyond our power to intervene and do anything about it?”

Board chairman Norman Robson said care homes’ problems were also in part due to the levels of debt which some of them had taken on. “While interest rates may be low at the moment, 12 months down the road the position could get a lot worse,” he added.

Their aim should be very much a case of keeping a watching brief.

Outlining the extra Government support, director of joint commissioning Sarah Weech said: “Our priority really does need to be the frail elderly – those with growing needs – which is an increasing population.”

This was about helping people to stay well and independent as long as possible. And it was about ensuring they had as good a life as possible in the place of their choice.

There had been two government allocations – one to transfer to the local authority to support social care in the next two years, and the other to help achieve fewer people being readmitted to hospital within a short period of time.