A fully paid up member of the "Big Society Club"

By Leon A Smith
March 24, 2011

I have vague and extremely unpleasant memories of the athletics running track at my school. Participation in athletic events at the time was akin to a form of perverse cruelty and as far as I was concerned one of the least enjoyable experiences which I recall as a child was running the hurdles race. Frankly, and I am not embarrassed to say so, even at the tender age of 12 I found jumping over these hurdles was a challenge too far for me! Inevitably after having fallen so many times, I tended to circumvent the last hurdle by walking around it.

Today 50 years later, I am the Chief Executive of Nightingale one of the country’s largest care homes and I am facing a very different kind of obstacle. Indeed, a series of obstacles which sadly cannot be circumvented. Sometimes running a care home does feel like a never ending hurdles race. At every point in our existence somebody somewhere is placing further obstacles in our way. These might be financial or bureaucracy/regulatory red tape or as a consequence of legislation. Running a care home such as Nightingale is fraught with difficulties and obstacles. As a fully paid up member of the “Big Society Club” I am waiting eagerly to see how much easier all of this is going to be once I start receiving the full benefits of my membership. (However I am assuming at the present time there must be some administrative difficulty as I have neither received my membership card nor full details of how our lives are going to be made easier.)

We have recently heard that the Regulator – the Care Quality Commission – is going to be significantly increasing its fees for registration. We have also just heard that there is currently a “consultation” taking place regarding an increase in fees for obtaining Criminal Record Bureau checks – something which Nightingale and all care homes are obliged to carry out for all new employees.

We are currently receiving letters from local authorities who commission care at Nightingale telling us by how much they want to reduce the amount of money which they give us in respect of the care of the residents who we look after. As it is, the money which we receive from this source already falls very significantly short of the true cost of providing care – and this reduction in income pays no heed in most cases to contracts which exist allowing for an annual inflationary uplift!

The Home Office in its wisdom has placed further obstacles on our ability to recruit high quality care staff from beyond the EU boundaries. It is no longer possible to recruit senior healthcare workers from outside Europe despite the very real difficulties that we experience on a very regular basis of recruiting high quality staff locally.

The increase in VAT by 2.5% in January has been a further blow. Whilst many people may be under the impression that Nightingale and any other charity can reclaim VAT and/or be exempt from it, this is absolutely not the case; and this represents a very significant increased expenditure. National Insurance Contributions are increasing as at 1st April – another unavoidable cost. I could go on – the list is endless.

Suffice to say, that even compared to running a hurdles race, there are an ever increasing number of obstacles which seem to be placed in front of us in trying to provide a service to those older members of our community and society in need. If government truly expects our “society” to take on more and more responsibilities it needs to focus very strongly and very quickly on removing some of these obstacles so that our life in caring for those who need our services can feel more akin to a leisurely stroll than an obstacle race.


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