ONE in five care home beds in Dorset are not up to standard, an investigation has revealed.

Some 21 per cent of beds are in homes rated as needing improvement, Which? analysis of Care Quality Commission (CQC) data has found.

In neighbouring Hampshire, 23 per cent of beds need improvement or are inadequate, according to the study.

Meanwhile, nationally, more than half of care home beds in England fail to meet standards set by the CQC.

Which? said the analysis highlighted the "huge" regional variation in the provision of quality local care across the country. The watchdog warned that the situation could rapidly worsen as demand starts to outstrip supply in an increasing number of local areas.

Earlier this week the Echo reported that the owners of Shalden Grange care home, Boscombe, had decided to close with "almost immediate effect." The home had been put in special measures by the CQC earlier in the year following an unannounced inspection which highlighted a number of concerns relating to resident safety.

Bournemouth Council's health and social care overview and scrutiny panel chairman Cllr David d'Orton-Gibson, said: "The current CQC regime of inspections is a relatively new regime, it came in a couple of years ago.

"Because this is a new regime of inspection which is looking at different things compared to what they had been looking at before, it is a bit like changing the MOT. You are going to discover things you didn't previously discover.

"Not everyone has been through the new testing regime, and many of those that have will have sorted the things out that were highlighted, but haven't yet been retested."

The councillor says any inspection regime that finds new issues should be "applauded" but care homes needed time to adjust and address issues raised.

He added: "Almost the most important thing about most care homes is the management. If you have a failing care home, you put a new manger in and the culture of the staff changes, the systems and processes improve.

"A lot of care homes are under financial pressure, and there is a shortage of people working in adult social care.

"If you want to put a lot more money into social care, either we have to be allowed to charge a lot more council tax to cover that - currently 75 per cent of all the money spent by the council is spent on adult and children's services.

"So in order to make a meaningful increase in that budget, you need a lot of money. At the end of the day the public are going to have to pay for it. If we ask them to pay a lot more council tax, or more on their income tax, they're going to have less money to spend elsewhere. It is a complex issue and one where you need to strike the right balance."

Previous which? research found that almost nine in 10 council areas across England were predicting a shortfall in care home places by 2022.

The Competition and Market Authority (CMA) is currently investigating the sector with a focus on market-wide issues including provision.

The Government announced recently that it would publish a Green Paper on social care next summer, and Which? is calling for it to look at the care system as a whole.

Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "These findings show that the social care crisis is very real and that already we are seeing the consequences of the chronic underfunding of the system on providers and the quality of care."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "It is unacceptable that standards fall below those rightly expected by people in care and their families.

"That's why we introduced a comprehensive inspection regime which has rated 80 per cent of adult social care providers as good or outstanding and changed the law placing a duty on councils in England to offer a meaningful choice of services."