Profiting from the most vulnerable

FRAIL OLD people living in homes run by Southern Cross Healthcare (SCH), Britain’s biggest provider of private nursing homes for old people, pay £473 a month on average for the privilege, some pay £2,000. But many SCH homes are substandard and often dangerous – industry watchdog CQC has stuck a ‘zero’ rating on 19 of them.

Roger Shrives

Property dealings by SCH’s greedy former private equity owners left it with huge bills that it cannot pay. Trying to buy more and more nursing homes, and making millions for its directors, its owners could not repay expensive loans from other business sharks.

In 2008 its shares lost a quarter of their value. Labour, then in government, let private owners keep control of the nursing homes. Two years later their shares are even lower and the company, desperate to be profitable, spends less and less on the homes and the staff.

Why didn’t Labour take these private nursing homes into public ownership when they first showed signs of collapsing? Privatisation of care services puts profit first and leaves vulnerable people living in shocking conditions.

Why should there be a commercial market in ‘care’ for defenceless old people? Who runs these homes and decides on priorities for the aged? Southern Cross and other private care homes should be taken into public ownership, either within the NHS or as part of a well-financed local authority social services department. Defending public services is clearly a life or death issue.