CARE home owners are being encouraged to convert to co-operatives in a bid to reduce the number of privately run homes that are forced to close down.
With an average of 26 beds being lost every day across the country and older patients regularly stuck in hospital due to ?discharge delays', experts believe that Britain is experiencing a care home crisis.
Faced with a barrage of problems, including increased running costs, insufficient support from local authorities, working time regulations and a levy on beds to fund registration and inspection, many owners of private care homes feel that they have no choice but to close. Meanwhile, rising fees and a shortage of places mean that many older people find it impossible to find suitable rooms in care homes.
However a new solution developed by the Co-operatives UK Provide project could allow a home owners to sell their business and let it continue as a co-operative.
As a co-operative, stakeholders, including staff, residents, families of residents and local interest groups, would form a board of directors, with a manager running the home. Retail co-ops could offer assistance with administration, IT and maintenance.
David Pinion, a member of the Provide working group and former Deputy Chief Executive of West Midlands Co-op, said: "New thinking is sometimes needed to reach a solution which can benefit everyone.
"We've been working with local authorities concerned about the decrease in private care homes. Our research shows that there is often a desire for a home to remain open, especially in rural areas. Wherever a home is, staff are the key to its success. Taking a co-operative approach gives staff the chance to continue providing a vital service, while owners can explore alternatives for the future of their home."
Haydn Lunn, Group Manager of the Care Homes Division at West Midlands Co-op, believes that a co-op gives those selling a home the reassurance that the new owners are just as committed as they are. "Many owners have a close affinity with their homes and residents. When selling up, a big part of the decision can be making sure that residents and staff are looked after properly. A co-operative can provide that continuity.
"Co-ops are not just about the bottom line, they are about caring for people and this is a perfect example of putting co-op principles into practice."
Co-operatives UK can provide information on funding, management and the legal implications of co-op care homes. It can put parties in touch with experts to create effective solutions which meet local needs.
"Co-ops are a practical alternative to private-ownership," says Helen Seymour at Co-operatives UK. "A care home is a vital service which, if lost, can affect the lives of residents, their families, the employees and the wider community. Co-ops offer stability for communities desperate to retain local care home provision.`
The Provide project is funded by Co-operative Action, for further information contact Helen Shaw at Co-operatives UK on 0161 246 2941, e-mail her or visit: www.cooperatives-uk.coop/provide.