The future of Southern Cross and the potential impact on those in their care is very distressing. The company’s business model shows investors at their worst – asset stripping and high-risk contractual agreements (that embarrasses ethical investors) – and the Southern Cross Board must take responsibility for the mess they are in and the resulting uncertainty for its residents.
Yet the unfolding drama raises some important issues.
Firstly, as a nation we do not yet have a clear enough strategy for caring for the increasing numbers of frail elderly people. Hopefully this will be rectified with the impending report on the funding of Social Care – it will require a bold and immediate response from government. A note of caution, we cannot expect the State to pick up the cost. We cannot afford it not because of recession or cuts, but because tax rates would have to sky-rocket to meet the needs of the growing elderly population and proportionally fewer people paying tax.
Secondly, while private companies are criticised and indeed they should be for poor decision-making, it is of concern that local councils, who tendered out the services, appear not to have applied due diligence, or put in place sufficient governance arrangements to ensure that the business model was sound.
Finally, the outcry over events at Southern Cross is tepid compared to the angry exchanges seen regarding GP commissioning and the role of Monitor. In this light it could be construed that the wrangles over health were more about professional self interest, terms and conditions than healthcare itself. The future shape of social care is in many ways a more important debate, yet it appears that the frail elderly have less of a voice and few professionals speaking up on their behalf. The quote that we used in our report ‘Take Care’ should be taken to heart:
Gail Beer and Julia Manning