With more than a fifth of beds empty, a social care crisis now has another asset to add to the list – care homes. In the wake of the pandemic and a brewing economic crisis, care homes are being hit particularly hard with the chair of the Independent Care Group, Mike Padgham, stating clearly, “care homes are in a fight for survival”. The government has repeatedly stated that it has been committed to giving good quality care and leans on their rebuttal that the social care reforms go further than any in their past. However, many councils are facing care homes closing at alarming rates, amid anger that the government’s ‘Fair Cost of Care’ reforms £378 million falls short of what is required by a whopping £854 million per year. What could this mean for the care sector?
360,792 people resided in care homes between 1 March 2021 and 28 February 2022 a full 8 per cent lower - from pre-pandemic figures (Aug 2019-Mar 20) with nearly 400,000 residents. One of the concerns in a lack of funding is a decrease in the quality of care given to the residents, as well as extremely vulnerable individuals being turned away from council funded care because of the lack of funding to provide specialist services to residents. What’s more, care homes will have to prioritise the most at need, leaving many people lucky enough to have the means, to pay privately for their care. In doing so, the revenue for the state backed homes decreases and feeds back into the funding crisis circle. If one’s family does not have the means to care or provide funding for private care, the individual’s health will surely deteriorate and less than ideal quality of life will persist.
A fall in bed occupancy occurred in care homes because of the coronavirus epidemic in the UK, with sadly many elderly residents dying in care homes because of policies on isolating and PPE from early on in 2020. As care homes had extremely tough rules on taking in residents, there are now less residents than ever, and this number has not recovered due to a hit in confidence alongside the funding reform issues – a perfect storm. A member of the County Councils Network, Martin Tett stated, "There is a clear consensus from those that work in adult social care that the Government’s Fair Cost of Care proposals are laudable - we all support the principle of making the system fairer. But the Government has seriously underestimated the costs of its proposals”.
Tett continued, "At the present funding level, these proposals could have a serious impact on the care sector across the country, leading to widespread care home closures and a rationing of care for the hundreds of thousands of people who need it each year”. In the CCN report, an estimated £854 million per year is need to make the ‘Fair Cost of Care’ scheme work - three times the Government’s proposed funding allocation for councils in their ‘levelling up’ mantra. The greatest impact to services would be felt by providers in the South East, East, and South West of England, the areas with the largest number of private fee payers able to access care.
It is feared that care home closures are on the horizon, with providers struggling to fill beds currently, but with closures, less total beds will be available and thus eventually there will then be a shortage. This is without any future epidemic with coronavirus, other seasonal flu and new epidemics causing pressure on the system as well. It could get to a point of care rationing, something feared very much by care leaders. Martin Tett concluded with a warning signal to the government -"Councils will be left between a rock and a hard place – either by raising council tax to excessive levels and cutting local services, or by seeing widespread care home closures in their areas."