When an elderly person needs to go into a care, council-approved homes are invited to participate in a timed, online auction, in which managers bid against each other to secure the ‘contract’.
But unlike ebay, it is often the lowest bid that wins, according to care home staff.
Appalled by the new system introduced in October year, some staff claim families are not being told how their relatives are being placed.
A care home worker, Adam*, said: “I had a meeting with someone and they mentioned a new bidding process that KCC were doing. I asked them to tell me more and they went through the whole process, and all the time I was thinking ‘this is just like ebay.’
“It’s got a time limit, you go on there and bid for that person, then the lowest bidder gets them. It seems like it’s KCC’s way to reduce their bill, and no one knows about it.”
“We’re always taught that things are meant to be done on a person-centered basis, yet they are making you do it on a computer. As far as I’m aware you [care home staff] don’t even get to see someone until they arrive at the home.”
The council’s refers to the process as a ‘dynamic purchasing system’ – a method usually used to buy and sell commodities.
Care workers say families are not made aware of the system, and are simply told the winning care home is the only one available.
Adam said: “We had one occasion where a family lived in [a coastal town] and we [a care home 40 miles away] had won the contract and the family weren’t told how they’d come to get her in this care home.
“As far as they were aware it was the only one KCC could get her into.
“If someone was to come up to me and say ‘this home’s won the bid for your mother or your father, they are going to go into a care home that’s 40 miles away from you’, I’d be devastated.”
Care home managers are invited to the auctions by email, where they bid on elderly people’s profiles, written by KCC case managers.
Adam explained: “It has their name, it tells you about their needs, and you click to say whether or not you can meet their needs, and if you can you make a bid.
“Up until a couple of weeks ago one manager refused to use it, but they’ve been forced to now because resident numbers were getting low.”
Adam says care home staff used to meet prospective residents and assess their needs in person prior to the introduction of the dynamic purchasing system.
He claims one consequence of the auction process could be that elderly people with difficult or complex needs could be passed over in favour of residents who are easier to look after.
“There are residents that display aggressive behaviors and if they go onto the website, they are ones who are going to get overlooked,” he said.
“If you go and assess someone, see them person to person, you could say, ‘ok, he’s got a history of aggressive behavior but maybe this is the reason why. He’s actually a nice person, he’s pleasant.
“You don’t see that person if you’re looking on a computer screen, you don’t see what they’re like in their environment. Taking someone out of their home and into a care home is frightening enough as it is.”
KCC has denied the lowest bidder always wins, but a briefing paper published in January last year states: “The best price provider will be offered the placement subject to quality considerations and client choice.”
Adam fears this could benefit care homes that are willing to cut corners to keep prices low.
He said: “It’ll be the not so good care homes that will get quite a few residents because they’ll be willing to drop their prices.
“I know we’re in the 21st century, but they are still people, at the end of the day.”
KCC spokesman Jo Toscano said: “Placements are made on the basis of whether a residential or nursing home can meet the needs of the person and there is a wide range of care homes to meet the range of needs of residents.
“Kent County Council has a list of preferred providers who have been vetted and have to meet a specific set of standards so we can be confident people will receive good quality care.
“When someone comes to us needing residential or nursing care, they are assessed, asked in which area they would like to live, and then we approach our preferred providers as appropriate to see who has the space and ability to meet the needs of the person.
“We also take into account any preferences the individual has. All data sent to providers is anonymised to comply with data protection. When providers have expressed an interest, all options will be discussed with the person and the decision will be taken with their agreement.
“All our preferred providers have submitted an indicative or maximum price under their contract , and the actual price to accept a particular person is dependent upon the needs of that individual.
“KCC has published guide/usual prices which differ according to area and types of care home. If a person wants a care home which is more expensive, they, or a family member may be requested to pay a top-up fee.”
KCC places about 1,240 elderly people in care each year, in 311 care homes across the county.
*Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity