care home owners in Wrexham and Flintshire say they are owed their share of £2.2 million in unpaid fees because of a legal battle that has been described as a “national scandal”.
After more than three years of wrangling, the Supreme Court has reached a decision on a dispute between Welsh health boards, councils and providers.
The nub of the case was over who should pay a £20-a-week fee for nursing care provided by care homes.
The health boards had originally come up with the figure but refused to pay it themselves.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of the local authorities and said the health boards has misinterpreted the legal position.
Care Forum Wales said it was a ridiculous that the health boards could not have reached an agreement without going to court in the first place.
They believe the court costs are upwards of £1m, money they say would have been better spent on providing frontline nursing care for vulnerable and frail care home residents.
A Welsh Government spokesman said yesterday: “We welcome the judgement handed down today by the Supreme Court.
“We are committed to working with local government, the NHS and care providers to consider the practical implications of its implementation.
“Health boards and local government have a strong working relationship and the findings of the judgement provide a sound basis for them to continue to work in partnership to deliver the new ways of working required by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act.
“The high quality of care being delivered across Wales has not been affected by the ongoing legal process and will not be affected by the Supreme Court judgement.”
Care Forum Wales is now calling for the lost fees to be backdated so care homes receive what they should have been paid years ago.
Chairman Mario Kreft, from Wrexham said: “We are delighted with the ruling of the Supreme Court which upheld what we always firmly believed was the case and what was said in the original judicial review secured by a group of providers.
“We appreciate the support of the local authorities in fighting this case because it was the right thing to do.
“Today’s decision has finally given us clarity over who should pay the fees and has hopefully brought this sorry saga to an end.
“From the outset, local authorities supported the notion that the amount calculated by health boards should be paid to providers.
“In fairness to the local authorities, it was the health boards which did not want to engage in discussions to sort this out much earlier.
“It is a national scandal that we have had to endure this long and completely unnecessary legal dispute.”
Mr Kreft added: “Everybody is in total agreement that this money should be paid to care homes and it is, after all, taxpayers’ money from the public purse.
“It really doesn’t matter one jot to Mrs Jones who needs publicly funded nursing care who is actually going to pay for that care. All that counts to her is that she receives the care she needs.
“The upshot is that privately-run care homes have been subsidising health boards at a time when they were already suffering from chronic underfunding. It flies in the face of fairness and natural justice.
“Effectively this Supreme Court judgement applies to all 11,000-plus people in registered nursing beds in Wales today.
“It’s very interesting that when you look at the most recent review findings in the interim report published only a few weeks ago, the body set up by the Health Minister Vaughan Gething to look at health and social care described the sector as unstable.
“Rather than have lengthy and expensive legal proceedings, it would have been far better if all the interested parties could have sat around a table with the providers looking at the real costs, and agreeing what a service should look like, what a service should cost.
“The other side of this is it’s put a massive dampener on the ability of providers to recruit staff, which is another problem highlighted by the review.
“The interim report identified there were huge recruitment and retention problems because we have a dysfunctional system.
“There is no better example of that dysfunction than 22 local authorities, the health boards and the providers fighting it out in the courts.
“We don’t believe it ever should have got there. We believe it should have been sorted out before it ever went anywhere near a lawyer.
“The figures tell a stark story. While this has been going on care homes have been denied fees amounting to £1,000 per resident every year.
“It is totally scandalous and they should be reimbursed because it’s only fair and proper that they are.
“When the dust settles on this case Wales will still be left with a population of older people that is amongst the highest in the Western World.
“Let’s take heed of the health minister’s panel of experts because this sorry tale shows there is much work to be done to meet the needs of vulnerable people.
“The people of Wales now expect us to work together so we can have a sustainable system that protects vulnerable people.”
A Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) spokesman said: “The WLGA is satisfied the parties involved can now move forward on the outcome.
”This case represents complex and challenging issues brought to test key legal principles.
“While it might appear to be simply a technical dispute between two public bodies, rather the case represents a test of important legal arguments that have the potential to impact all service users in care homes, both in Wales and across the UK.”
A spokesman for the Welsh NHS Confederation added: “The Welsh NHS Confederation, on behalf of health boards in Wales, accepts the final ruling of the Supreme Court in relation to Funded Nursing Care.
“The health boards and the local authorities involved in the case will now, together with support from the Welsh Government, consider the court’s ruling on this complex matter.”