A hike of more than 30% in council-run care home fees is to be discussed at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s budget meetings tomorrow (Tuesday February 19th).

The scale of the increase is causing concern among councillors, who will be asked to vote on whether to accept the proposed new fee scales.

The proposals come from the Western Isles Integration Joint Board (IJB) which last week (Wednesday February 13th) met to consider a wide range of budgetary and strategic issues for 2019/20.

The IJB is the body set up to implement a new integrated approach to health and social care provision, with representation from the Comhairle and NHS Western Isles and from health professionals, carers and third sector representatives.

The move, outlined in a report to the IJB by the strategic commissioning manager at the Western Isles Health and Social Care Partnership (Cùran is Slàinte), could see council home care fees increased from the current rate of £1,028 per room per week to a new rate of £1,366, a rise of 33% over the previous year.

At the same time rates for the care of adults with additional needs at the Ardseileach Care Home would be increased from £1,473 to £1,782 per room. Other charges, for meals and personal care, will also be revised.

The proposed council-run care home rate compares to charges at privately run care homes in Lewis and Harris of £755 per week at Blàr Buidhe and Bethesda care homes in Stornoway, and £680.12 at Leverburgh Care Home. All those charges will be subject to an inflation-linked rise agreed under the National Care Home Contract (NCHC).

IJB board member Councillor Norman A Macdonald told welovestornoway.com today (Monday February 18th): “I think councillors will react to the difference between these charges – there are a number of people on the council who are unhappy about this. Over the weekend there have been exchanges of emails and councillors have said that they don’t really know why it is happening.

“Historically, charges for council-run care homes have always been much higher than those for private care, partly to do with conditions of service and pay for staff. Many local authorities in other areas use private care homes, as local authorities don’t tend to have a lot of care homes. But in the Western Isles the use of council care homes is significantly higher.”

Individuals staying in care homes and their families will not be immediately affected by the increase, as the fees are only charged to them if their assets, including the value of their home, are above a government-set threshold, currently £17,000.

Cllr Macdonald said: “Where is affects people is in the rate at which their savings will be reduced when charges are increased to this extent. If they have money in the bank, or property, then the charges will be offset against that until they reach the lower threshold in savings and property.

“Up until now, the council has been very cautious about setting charges against property because they didn’t feel it was right. The system of land tenure here is different and we have a really high incidence of privately-owned houses.

“It is a cultural issue. These rules have always been in place but now we have no choice, we’re being told that we have a legal obligation to set charges against property. It’s such an emotive thing because its people’s family homes that could be lost, homes that have been in their family for generations.” 

If councillors approve the proposals from the IJB tomorrow they will go to full council on Wednesday and be returned to the IJB, which will make final budget decisions towards the end of March. The new charges are due to come into effect from April 1st

Cllr Macdonald said: “The Comhairle will consider this on Tuesday and, if there was a strong will to do that, they could knock it back.” 

The proposal from the IJB includes a commitment to produce ‘a public information leaflet, detailing all service charges for 2019/20, so that service users are fully informed of all the charges that apply to the Comhairle’s Community Care Services.’