Plans will be published in the new year for a new law that will make directors and private companies criminally liable for abuses that take place at care and nursing homes that they fund or operate. This follows Care Minister Norman Lamb’s statement earlier this month in which he declared his intention to make private companies accountable when the care and nursing homes they fund and/or operate fail to provide the required standards of care. It is unclear how these plans will link in to Mr Lamb’s other concerns about the lack of regulation currently available to prevent standards of care dropping in healthcare facilities due to the their financial backers falling into economic difficulties.

The criminalisation of directors and private for standards of care in care and nursing homes may lead to imprisonment for senior executives or fines to be paid by these companies. This will be a significant change in the law which has traditionally focused almost exclusively on the actions or inactions of individual medical and nursing staff rather than looking more widely at the actions or inactions of senior management and the private companies who fund the homes and are often responsible for the operation of care homes and their Care Quality Commission registration.

The advance in the law is a response to recent care home scandals such as the Winterbourne View abuse and neglect cases where the directors of the company who owned the nursing facility did not face any criminal charges despite six members of the nursing staff being imprisoned for their part in the scandal. The change may also be a response to the fact that the threshold for prosecution and liability under the Corporate Manslaughter Act has so far been untouchable for Police investigating deaths occurring in the healthcare sector.

Whatever the reason may be for the change in the law, corporate entities should prepare for much more scrutiny on their involvement in care and nursing homes. The intention of the new law is clearly to prevent these companies being allowed to reap the benefits of profits when the care home performs well but not taking any legal responsibility when a care home fails. Every corporate body involved in the funding or operation of a care home will need to consider what lines of accountability are in place from the care home workers through to the care home managers and directors of the care home, to themselves. In many cases, issues of care home abuse come down to poor monitoring which is as a result of a lack of funding in the key areas.

Therefore private companies who fund care homes need to be able to pre-empt issues by releasing funds or redirecting funds before poor standards of care arise or acts of abuse are allowed to happen. They should all consider if they need to take greater steps to monitor what goes on in the care homes that they have invested in, and seek advice regarding their legal responsibilities.