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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 12:05 GMT
Care quality regulator launched
Nursing homes will have to meet new standards
Nursing homes will have to meet new standards
Standards in nursing homes, private hospitals and long-term care providers are to be regulated by a new body.

The National Care Standards Commission (NCSC) is an independent body charged with registering and inspecting up to 40,000 social, private and voluntary care services across England.

The NCSC, which will be launched on Monday, will have the power to shut services down if they fail to meet standards. It can also prosecute providers, and remove them from the register permanently so they can no longer operate.

But the commission expects that in most circumstances, it will be able to work with the provider to meet help them improve.

We welcome any body that's going to be there to bring about better conditions and care standards for patients - but it has to have teeth

Mike Stone, Patients Association
The commission replaces a piecemeal approach to inspection, which saw about 230 local authorities and health authorities implement differing standards, leading to confusion for users.

Services which will come under the NCSC's auspices will include local authority managed residential homes, home-care providers, independent fostering agencies and many independent health care establishments, that were not previously regulated.

Anywhere providing oxygen tent therapy (hyperbaric oxygen treatment), laser treatment for hair removal or orthopaedic massage, will also come under the auspices of the NCSC.

'Quality assurances deserved'

The NCSC, established under the Care Standards Act 2000, will check whether those services it regulates meet national standards set down by the Department of Health.

The commission has a 1,400-strong team of inspectors.

It will be based in Newcastle, and have eight regional offices and 71 area offices around England.

Anne Parker, chair of the NCSC said: "Our task is to improve the quality of care services in England and improve the protection of people who use those services.

"We are a new organisation with new staff and procedures, charged with delivering consistent and high-quality regulation. We will be an essential source of information for everyone interested in providing good quality care."

Ron Kerr, chief executive of the NCSC, added: "Service users and their relatives deserve firm assurances about the quality of care they can expect to receive in these establishments and agencies. 

"We aim to work in partnership with service providers to ensure that a good quality of basic care and welfare is available to vulnerable people, regardless of where they live."

He told the BBC the commission was not enforcing overly-tough standards which could drive care homes out of the market.

"If people look at the standards, they are the sort of thing they would want to see if they were in a care home and receiving care themselves."

Health professionals and patient groups welcomed the new organisation.

Financial implications

Mike Stone, chief executive of the Patients Association, told BBC News Online: "We welcome any body that's going to be there to bring about better conditions and care standards for patients - but it has to have teeth."

Sheila Scott, chief executive of the National Care Homes Association said: "We have been calling for 20 years for an independent inspectorate.

"We have also been calling for national standards, rather than local authorities and health authorities setting their own standards. So we welcome the commission."

Care homes will face standards in areas such as room size and training.

Ms Scott said: "These are standards we welcome, but they will of course carry financial implications.

"And care homes are going through a fairly torrid time at the moment."

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Nursing said it too welcomed the formation of the NCSC.

"Independent hospitals, care homes and nursing agencies should be regulated by a body which is independent and which will have teeth."

But Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman on older people said: "The new watchdog has not been given enough human resources to inspect homes, not enough time to get all its inspection systems in place, and not enough teeth for the inspectors to improve standards."

Jackie Glatter, of the Consumers' Association, said: "While this is a major step forward, the NCSC has its work cut out and patients will still need to remain cautious about the possible pitfalls of private healthcare."

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