Government vows care home support
The Government has moved to bolster public confidence in the care of Britain's most vulnerable people after the nation's biggest residential home operator admitted it faced a financial crisis and a probe was launched into the alleged abuse of patients at a private hospital for people with learning difficulties.
Downing Street gave a guarantee that 31,000 elderly residents of Southern Cross would not "lose out" as the embattled care home chain warned it was in a "critical financial condition", unveiling losses of £311 million in the space of six months.
Answering calls from union leaders and families of residents for urgent action to ease mounting concern, David Cameron's official spokesman said: "We are clear that we are putting the interests of residents at the top of the list. Our interest is to make sure these people are cared for effectively."
Asked if residents could take that as a guarantee that they would not lose out, he said: "Exactly right."
Southern Cross's chairman Christopher Fisher also moved to allay fears, insisting going bust was not a scenario the company "anticipate arising" and promising residents would not suffer even if that did happen.
He told Channel 4 News: "If there were a corporate failure, it wouldn't impact on the care delivery at home level, but we are determined that there isn't going to be a corporate failure. Within our constituency of stakeholders, it is possible to engineer a solution to our present situation so we emerge from the current period in a stable and sustainable form."
Asked about relatives' concerns over the impact on elderly residents if they are forced to move home, Mr Fisher said: "We are very sensitive to the vulnerability of the people in our care and that is our primary focus. We have no agenda about moving people."
Care Services Minister Paul Burstow earlier confirmed that ministers were following events carefully and that officials at the Department of Health were in contact with the company's senior management, the Care Quality Commission and local authorities.
The business, which owns almost 750 care homes and employs thousands of staff, has announced it will be underpaying its £230 million annual rental bill by a third for the next four months in what is effectively a loan from its landlords.
It is struggling with rising rent bills and faces declining local authority fees as fewer councils place residents with the company. Southern Cross said none of its homes were threatened by imminent closures and it was confident a "critical mass" of landlords will support restructuring plans which will be drawn up over the summer.