Friday, June 22, 2007

Rights blow to elderly in private care

housands of people who use hospital or school services contracted out by local authorities are without the protection of human rights laws, after a landmark ruling yesterday.

In a split 3-2 decision, the law lords ruled that private care homes contracted out to care for elderly people for a local authority are outside the scope of the Human Rights Act.

The judgment could affect up to 300,000 residents in England and Wales and also a range of other services contracted out to private bodies, such as intermediate treatment centres or foundation schools.

The law lords rejected the view that a private home is exercising a public function when it cares for people referred to it by a council. As a result, they said, it was not bound by the Human Rights Act and its residents could not claim protections under it.The ruling came in the case of an 83-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, whose lawyers argued that her threatened eviction from a private home would violate her right to family life.

Six months ago the Court of Appeal said that it was bound by previous rulings that a private care home could not be classified as a public body and was not covered by the Act.

The patient, identified only as YL, has lived at the home since January last year, when she was placed there by her local authority, Birmingham City Council.

The home, which cannot be named for legal reasons, is run by Southern Cross Healthcare, which wants to remove the woman because of disagreements with her relatives.

Liberty, the human rights group, which was represented in the case, said that the law lords’ reasoning “seems to have been largely that private care providers are motivated by profit and governed by contract rather than public service values”. Its lawyer, Anna Fair-clough, said: “It is open to Parliament to be the last court of human rights and enact specific care home legislation to prevent local authorities from contracting out of dignity for Britain’s elderly.”

Gordon Lishman, director-general of Age Concern, said: “This is a catastrophe for the 300,000 vulnerable older people who live in independent care homes.”

The Alzheimer’s Society said: “All care home residents should be protected by the Act. This is a basic entitlement, which should not be compromised by the type of home they live in or the source of funding. We urgently need legislation to close this glaring loophole.”

No comments: