Stoke-on-Trent City Council agrees to pay more for care
PRIVATE care providers contracted to look after elderly or vulnerable residents are to receive almost £750,000 in extra payments to ward off a legal challenge.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council will award independent care providers the equivalent of a 2.1 per cent increase in the weekly fees it pays for care – and has agreed to back-date payments to April.
The move will cost £500,000 for elderly care and £244,000 for younger adults with mental and physical disabilities.
It is intended to avert the threat of legal action by care providers, who have demanded an increase in the current 'inappropriate' fees.
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Weekly fees for basic residential care will increase from £390 to £398, while payments for older people's nursing care will rise from £518 to £529.
An external review into the costs of care will be carried out at the council's expense before future annual decisions on funding.
Above-inflation fee increases were handed to care homes between 2007 – when the city council was the lowest payer in the West Midlands – and 2010.
But the authority froze payments in 2011/12, and initially 2012/13, as it battled budget cuts totalling more than £56 million.
The Fairer Fees Forum challenged the original freeze in the High Court last year.
In a report to cabinet members, due to be approved on Thursday, the council's adult services director Tony Oakman said: "A number of providers commented that waiting until 2013/14 for the review to be implemented was too long and would have an impact on the quality of care and, in some cases, the viability of the business. Unlike a lot of authorities in the West Midlands, we have a care home sector locally that are unified, communicative effectively, and are prepared to mount a legal challenge if they feel that the correct process has not been followed when setting fees."
The Fairer Fees Forum was not granted a judicial review as it had taken too long to bring the case to court, but the court ruled it did have valid grounds to challenge.
The Staffordshire Association of Registered Care Providers insists a fee increase is 'vital', while the council has been warned its failure to support homes to cover rising costs will lead to loss of staff, reduction in choice of food, cancellation of renovations and the scrapping of all training above legally-required levels.
Critics fear the authority is being held to ransom as it increasingly relies on the private sector due to budget cuts, while the industry argues the council holds unfair power as the biggest buyer in the market.
The North Staffordshire Pensioners' Convention cautiously welcomed the fee increase.
Andy Day, the group's co-ordinator, pictured below, said: "As soon as you become reliant on the private sector, it puts the authority commissioning the care at a disadvantage.
"But in broad terms, we agree with paying more to the private sector for care because, if they are cut to the bone, older people will suffer.
"We also welcome any incentives which reward better standards.
"What has got to go hand-in-hand with that is effective monitoring of the quality of care being provided by the private sector."