THE body overseeing care homes has been re-branded and given tough new powers in the wake of the collapse of the Southern Cross group and other recent controversies.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that the rate of unannounced inspections would be doubled to at least once a year, and inspectors would also be able to increase the number of times they visit a home over a year if they were concerned about its performance.

She also announced a new working name for Social Care and Social Work Inspection Scotland (SCSWIS), which would become known simply as the Care Inspectorate.

The body was set up to take on the work of the Care Commission, the Social Work Inspection Agency, and the child protection work previously done by HM Inspectorate of Education.

Ms Sturgeon said the budget would be set for the Care Inspectorate to enable it to carry out more frequent inspections.

She also revealed Scottish Government officials were working with the Care Inspectorate and local government umbrella group Cosla to provide “greater financial robustness” in the care home sector, after the collapse of nationwide provider Southern Cross earlier this year.

The shake-up also comes after a police investigation into the death of a 59-year-old woman, who had Down’s Syndrome, at a care home in Edinburgh. The owners of the Elsie Inglis Care Home moved to shut down the business and residents were moved to other premises in the city following the death.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I believe that in general care services in Scotland are of a good quality and respond well to the needs of both older people and the people who care for them.

“I also believe the arrangements in place for the regulation and inspection of care homes are fundamentally robust. However, I have also been clear that there are aspects of the care regime in Scotland that are worth further consideration.

“That is why I have today announced a strengthening of the regulation and inspection regime and work to provide protection against the challenges presented by circumstances such as the failure of Southern Cross.”

Currently all highly performing care homes with a low risk assessment are subject to at least one unannounced inspection every two years.

Care homes which do not fall into this category, or those with a high risk assessment, are subject to at least two unannounced inspections every year.

Ms Sturgeon said regulations will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament to specify the minimum frequency of inspections and make clear all inspections will be unannounced.

Responding to concerns raised by Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie over funding cuts in the care sector and a reduction in the number of inspectors, Ms Sturgeon said: “Announcement on spending will be made in due course … given that the new Care Inspectorate has replaced three pre-existing organisations -- we will expect efficiencies to be made.

“But the budget for the Care Inspectorate will enable the organisation to deliver more frequent inspections, maintain its current overall staffing capacity and ensure it has the right mix of staff to take forward the wide range functions that have been allocated to it.”

She also updated MSPs on the restructuring of Southern Cross, which had 98 homes in Scotland with about 4500 residents.

She said new operators for all the properties had been found with the exception of two homes, Belhaven Care Home in Troon, South Ayrshire, and Forth View in Leven, Fife. Separate arrangements have been made for these two homes and they will transfer at a later date.