European Commission 'misunderstands nature of home care'

7 May 2010

European Commission 'misunderstands nature of home care'

“Home care is health care and not an economic activity. The European Commission's advice is to see home care as commercial, a misunderstanding of its value." This was SP Member of Parliament Renske Leijten's reaction to a letter from the European Commission on the issue of putting home care – the equivalent of Britain's home help service – out to tender. "They obviously understanding nothing about the nature of home care," said Leijten. "Happily, it's only an advice note and not a ruling."

Renske LeijtenThe letter was sent at the request of former Secretary of State Jet Bussemaker, who wanted the Commission's opinion in relation to a proposed law brought forward by former SP leader Agnes Kant. Kant's proposal would mean that the obligation to put home care services out to tender would be removed from the WMO, the law governing the provision of social support. In the first reading of this law, a majority in Parliament ruled that home care could not be reduced to a simple matter of cleaning, a judgement backed by the government and one which meant that tendering of all aspects of the service, as otherwise required by EU law, would not be obligatory. “The Commission is now trying to claim that measuring the hours spent on cleaning has established that home care is indeed a commercial service, no different from office cleaning. But cleaning for someone who needs help in maintaining their home and cleaning an office are completely different things.”

Leijten is calling on Parliament and the minister to reject the European Commission's advice. "The minister did just that, with Parliament's support, in the case of the ambulance service, where the European Commission saw an ambulance driver as being not in any way different from a taxi driver, and so part of a commercial service. But if the ambulance driver learns how to give emergency care and first aid, it stops being commercial. It's ridiculous to have to split things up this way, and we must not allow this to be the future of our health care.”

Leijten notes that the letter is an advice note from the European Commission's services and has no direct legal consequences. “In the end it's the European Court of Justice which has the last word when it comes to legal matters. The proposed law should therefore simply go through, and if possible before Agnes Kant leaves Parliament at the elections. Left or right we must prevent home care from being treated as a cleaning service. This is a political choice and should not be left to Eurocrats."

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