The Social Services Inspectorate, which has been monitoring Lancashire CC since it was placed under special measures in February 2000, is closely scrutinising the council's proposals to close 35 care homes.
Health minister Jacqui Smith said she met leading county council members and some Lancastrian MPs last week. She said the SSI was closely following the work by the council to assess its current care provision and to consult on future strategies with the NHS, local people and other interested parties.
He asked the minister to see whether anything could be done to preserve the very specialist care provided by the society. Mr Borrow also urged the department of health and the inspectorate to take 'a very robust attitude' to the document the county council will eventually produce on long-term care for the elderly in Lancashire.
Ms Smith said she agreed that both the independent and voluntary sectors must be fully engaged in any changes. The government had made it very clear that it expected local authorities to work in their commissioning with the private, and voluntary sectors, as well as with their NHS partners, to commission and develop the services needed for older people.
Simon Burns, Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, said in the past five years 50,000 beds had been lost across the whole long-term care sector. In the next five years in Lancashire, county council placements in the private sector will decrease from 1,860 to 600, and 35 of the 48 council homes would close, with the loss of 700 beds.
He asked how the government's policy of using the stick rather than the carrot and penalising local authorities involved in delayed discharges from hospital would be implemented, and how would it help Lancashire CC tackle its serious problems in finding placements for the most vulnerable and frail elderly?
The minister said Lancashire CC had already used the extra investment from government to improve services including, for example, an 18% increase in the number of people receiving intensive home care.
Hansard 7 May 2002: Column 17-19