Care home bosses in Birmingham have reacted with anger after an independent review concluded city council fees should be frozen.
The study, by consultants Madi Turpin and James Byatt of Solar, was commissioned by the council to ensure that a fair price was paid to homes.
It follows claims by care home owners that they are in danger of going bust due to a council payment freeze which has been in place since 2008.
The owners of 80 homes, grouped together in the Birmingham Care Consortium, saw a bid for a judicial review of the costs thrown out by the High Court during the summer.
The owners of 745 homes used by the council were contacted with question forms but a disappointing 85, about 11 per cent, were returned.
Only 17 offered to open their accounts for inspection and all of these were visited by the consultants. The consortium argues that the study is flawed on two points; the low response rate and a poor methodology and is calling for a new review.
And while there was found to be no need to increase fees, the inspectors concluded that some of the homes were in poor condition and there is a need, where Birmingham City Council is a key commissioner of services, to look at helping with capital maintenance and upgrade costs to ensure that properties are ‘‘fit for purpose’’.
The report also suggested the council needs to build bridges with care providers as the low level of response suggests there is a ‘‘high level of distrust’’.
Of those 85 who provided information, 67 were homes for younger adults with disabilities, and just 18 were homes for the elderly.
The inspectors looked at staffing levels, shift patterns, hourly rates, overtime rates and overheads such as cleaning, maintenance and laundry to work out the average cost per hour of care.
They concluded that the average cost of care for a younger adult is £9.59 per hour and for the elderly is £8.56 per hour. The report recognised differences in care, such as more for residents with dementia.
The report concluded: “There is no suggestion from the information that was submitted to enable us to consider that the current fees overall need to be increased to ensure the viability of the services.”
It suggests that some homes could improve efficiency and save hundreds of pounds a week by looking at shift patterns and hand-over times, management structure, overtime rates and even cutting use of agency staff.
Earlier this year the Post revealed that the council was paying just £52 per day to look after elderly people with dementia and other forms of mental illness. Ann Smith, who runs the Stoneleigh home in Stechford, said she was expected to provide 24-hour cover plus meals for £364 a week for 15 residents.
Chairman of the Birmingham Care Consortium, Les Latchman said: “We are not happy with the outcome of the report. The consultants were not able to get enough information from the care sector, and we have to in part blame the sector for that. The ten per cent response is reflective of the mistrust and we need to rebuild that.
“We are also critical of the methodology. It was supposed to look at the cost of care locally, but it seems to be as much about finding efficiencies.”
Mr Latchman, who runs Radnor House in Handsworth, added: “They haven’t looked at quality of care, the needs of service users, the debt carried by businesses and the conditions of staff.”
He added that after three years of pay freezes the ‘‘future does not look good for the care sector in Birmingham’’.
But he was pleased the report had recognised that dementia care is fundamentally more expensive that regular care and that many homes had cut back on capital investment during the fee freeze, meaning that some homes are not up to scratch. The consortium is proposing the council re-run the exercise and that they work together to improve the response rate.
But Jon Tomlinson, who commissioned the report for the city council and health service said a new survey would be impossible to conduct before the conclusion of discussions over the council’s budget.
He said: “We designed this to be open and transparent and this was an opportunity for the market to give us evidence to put in front of the city council.”
He said the report had given allowed for a much better understanding of the care home market.