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What is the difference between council-owned care homes and privately owned care homes?

There remains a small number of local authority owned care homes alongside the much larger private home sector. Families facing the challenge of finding the right care often ask what is the difference between the two and what are their advantages and disadvantages.

Some of the families we speak to have a perception that council-owned homes will be more closely regulated and therefore better run. While it may be true, homes within local authority ownership are governed by a number of rules and regulations. This however does not necessarily equate to the home being better run for the residents.

Privately run homes are also regulated, facing inspections from the Care Quality Commission. At least as importantly, the owner of privately-run care home will have a great personal stake in the quality and reputation of their business. This will serve to regulate standards.

Differences between private and council-owned

Of course, perceptions about the differences between private and council-owned will vary according to your personal experience. Some people will see private as a better and more aspirational care option than local authority. It is not possible to apply a broad distinction – some private homes will provide good care at a lower cost and a homely, ‘down-to-earth’ ethos. Major private homes groups, do market themselves along the same lines as private healthcare, with an emphasis upon the quality of the facilities and types of activities offered. This will suit some people, but it is very worthwhile asking about staff to resident ratios and use of agency nursing staff in all homes.

Long term viability

There is also the issue of the longer term viability of homes, a concern which applies to both homes. During the past decade, councils across the UK have embarked on a widespread programme of home closures. The rationale behind this has been efficiency. It is simply much cheaper for a local authority to pay a private care home to provide care than to provide that care themselves. So if you are considering a council run care home for your loved one, you are entitled to ask your local authority for assurance about the long term viability of that home.

Of course, the long term viability of a care home is not guaranteed within the private sector either.  One of the best markers for the long term future of a care home is its reputation. The reputation not only conveyed through the regulatory mechanics of inspections and reports, but also the reputation known to people working in the area, such as our Care home Selection advisers.

knowledge is power

They will have found people places in all the best local homes and followed up placements with contact for months, sometimes years. Like a parent who has already been through your local school system, they know the reality behind glossy brochures and guided tours. They understand the ethos and values of each home. These are the most important facts.

For those going into privately run care homes with part of full local authority funding, there is another check in place. Your local Social Workers, who will manage placements, are regularly in touch with the homes themselves. They will become aware of any complaints or issues that are raised. They will place a ‘hold’ on any further placements there until issues are resolved. This is a sanction which is still applied when required.

Self funders

But what about self-funders? They are outside this system and so would not have any means of accessing this important information. This does place self-funders, already disadvantaged by lack of support, at a real disadvantage. As Carehome Selection work so closely with many authorities and hospitals, we generally know where there are current issues. This is information and knowledge we are happy to share with self-funders when required.

Looking ahead to the future, it is likely that there will be further closures of council run care homes. Local authorities are now concentrating upon specialist care, such as homes for people with dementia. But even these homes normally provide interim care, before a permanent placement within the private sector is found.



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