Care pledge for old folk

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Norfolk's growing numbers of older people were last night promised better care, greater independence and improved living facilities as part of a major shift away from residential homes.


Norfolk's growing numbers of older people were last night promised better care, greater independence and improved living facilities as part of a major shift away from residential homes.

The county council is embarking on a far-reaching review looking at the best ways it can accommodate the changing needs of older residents.

The numbers of over-85s is set to rise by 54pc in just over a decade, while the authority is also facing a £15m bill just to bring its existing homes up to scratch.

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Currently, there are 7,364 care home places in Norfolk, with 848 provided directly by the council.

That dwarfs the 580 housing-with-care units, which combines the independence of living in your own home, while maintaining support nearby.

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A report to be considered by councillors next week recommends adopting housing- with-care schemes as the "preferred model" and moving away from care homes because of the combination of rising demand for places and increased repair costs to bring them up to the latest government standards.

It proposes a £70,000 study to look in detail at the likely demand across the county in an attempt to identify where new housing with facilities are most needed.

There will also be increased support to help people stay in their own homes.

It also proposes developing specialist provision for people with severe dementia as well as those requiring short-term care.

And it said new care schemes should be "mixed tenure" featuring those who wish to own their homes, shared ownership and homes to rent.

Chris Mowle, cabinet member of adult social services, said the council would work in partnership with the independent and voluntary sectors, and also join forces with housing associations in a bid to build more housing-with-care schemes.

The new provision would follow on from successful schemes such as Harriet Court in Norwich, Redmayne View in Spixworth and Robert Kett Court, Wymondham.

"Norfolk is facing a massive increase in demand for residential care alongside an ever tightening budget," he said. "We cannot sit back and do nothing about this. As a commissioning organisation we are responsible for providing a comprehensive long-term strategy for residential care to ensure that we can meet future needs."

He said while the quality of care provided by staff in the county run homes was second to none, the state of the facilities was often not up to scratch.

"In quite a lot of homes, the care standards in them are absolutely fantastic, but the environment in some of them is awful," he said. "You wouldn't go on holiday for a fortnight without ensuite facilities," he said. "Would you want to share a bathroom with six other people? If you want to go to the loo in the night you don't want to walk down a corridor to get there."

The proposals are likely to attract cross party support - with opposition parties at County Hall also favouring a shift towards housing with care.

Labour's Maran McKay, welcomed the report, but said the issue needed to be handled sensitively.

"It's the expectations and standards we would expect in 2008 and not 30 years ago," she said. "I would be pushing towards this. This is the best care for older people and I've always said we should be doing it faster

"It's a big improvement and people will be getting a better service."

But the report also stresses the need to reassure existing staff and residents that the strategy is not simply about closing homes or shifting the burden to the private sector as its role as a provider of homes decreases.

"Increasingly housing with care is seen as the preferred option by many people as this allows them to have their own flat/house in a safe environment in the knowledge that their care needs are supported day and night," the report said.

"In reality housing with care is currently a realistic option for few people because of availability, leaving most people no option other than to move into a care home," the report said.

But the introduction of new care standards raises the prospect that many homes could fail the new series of inspections - whose results will be made public this year for the first time.

"The cost of upgrading…is estimated to be £15.3m," the report added. "However with few exceptions the buildings are old, obsolete in their layout and full compliance with disability discrimination act requirements is costly and often impractical.

"Environmentally they fall below modern standards with old heating systems, poor insulation levels and extensive glazing. Even if this work was to be completed it would still not provide ensuite bathrooms for residents."

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