Eddie Lynch has today launched a report 'Respecting residents’ rights in care homes', which reviews the contract currently in place between Health and Social Care Trusts and care home providers. 

The report highlights a gap in the system which fails to protect care home residents from being involuntarily transferred or ‘evicted’ to another care home, for reasons other than a change of care needs.

The Commissioner says the contract, which is under review by the Department of Health, needs to be strengthened in order to better protect residents from being removed from their care home without good reason. There are currently 15,837 registered residential and nursing care beds in care homes in Northern Ireland. 93 per cent of these places are provided by the private sector. The Trusts spend approximately £582million of public money annually in the commissioning of residential and nursing care placements from independent care providers, mainly for older people.

Speaking about his latest report, Eddie Lynch said: “For some time, I have been concerned by reports that clauses in the Regional Care Home Contract are being improperly used by care home providers. A series of complaints from older people, their families and friends led me to track occurrences where the contract’s conditions for terminating a residency in a care home were misused. On occasion, it is being used as a means of evicting residents who are complaining about the level of service they receive, or whose family is seen as difficult or undesirable. 

“Most older people live happily in their care homes and many transfers between care homes are due to a legitimate reason such as a change in the residents’ healthcare needs. These transfers are planned and agreed with the resident and their family.

“But this report highlights examples where the current contract isn’t offering the adequate protections it should for care home residents. These examples are of non-voluntary transfers for reasons other than a change of healthcare needs and at unreasonably short timescales. These feel like evictions to the residents involved.”  

The report details a number of anonymised examples where older people have been transferred away from their care home of choice, at the discretion of the care home manager, with no opportunity to appeal the decision.  

Eddie Lynch continued: “Behind each of these cases, is a vulnerable older person and their family, who are left feeling totally helpless. Being moved from a care home can be extremely distressing for residents - the resident is suddenly removed from their home with its familiar environment, routine, staff, and community, often at a time when that person has reduced physical or mental capacity. It cannot be underestimated the real harm this causes to older people.  The current contract must be changed to include stronger rights protections as well as specific safeguarding mechanisms.”

The report includes several recommendations which, if implemented, would ensure the rights of residents are placed at the heart of the care home contract.  

Some of these recommendations include:

  • Amending the contract to embed a culture of human rights in care homes. 
  • Making explicit the residential protections available to residents of care homes.
  • Clarity on reasons for compulsory transfer to avoid abuse of the system.
  • An independent appeals process with advocacy support for residents.

The Commissioner added: “Care homes currently hold all the power about residents’ security.  In the cases brought to my office, there is simply not enough due process to protect the rights of an older person in care.  Residents in care homes are less protected in terms of security of tenure than a person in a private tenancy arrangement (outside of a care home) is.”

Eddie Lynch concluded: “Thankfully the majority of older people are secure in their care homes, receiving quality care, but the current system is open to misuse and the Department of Health needs to improve the contract to ensure all residents are treated with dignity and respect in the place they consider their home.

“I urge any families out there who are experiencing issues like this with their loved one’s care home to contact my office on 028 90 890892 or email us on info@copni.org for support.”

Read the full report below: