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15 May 2023

Hot Take: Close to the brink

Hot Take: Close to the brink

Caring Times editor-in-chief Lee Peart calls for urgent government action to halt the social care crisis.

Everywhere I go these days when I talk to people in social care they tell me things have never been so tough. 

Brexit and cuts to workforce funding combined with Covid and the rising cost of living have created a perfect storm for the sector. 

Staff vacancies currently stand at around 165,000 as providers struggle to compete with supermarkets and the NHS. 

Under pressure providers are doing their best by raising salaries and incentives but for those reliant on local authority funding it’s a truly uphill battle. 

We have seen a host of care home closures in recent months with remoter rural regions such as the Scottish Highlands where access to recruitment pools is particularly challenging among the worst affected. 

If anyone was in any doubt just how the difficult the current climate is, recent announcements by not for profit provider Methodist Homes that it was seeking new owners for 10 homes and by HC-One that it was offloading 19 homes confirmed the worst fears. 

The restructuring programmes being undertaken by leading care home providers in order to stay afloat are some of the most sweeping I have seen in my seven years in the sector and the most significant since Four Seasons went into administration in 2019. 

HC-One made plain its current challenges in its latest trading statement citing “exceptional times” after recording a £6.1 million loss for the year ending September 2022. 

As with Four Seasons it is no coincidence that the providers with the highest exposure to local authority funding are feeling the most pain. 

More than three-quarters of HC-One fee payers are funded by local authorities with self-pay occupancy currently standing at around 23%. 

For those who believe in the principle of providing local authority funded care the situation is clearly close to breaking point. 

So what should be done? 

More funding must be provided to make local authority fees a viable prospect for providers before more go to the wall or are forced to focus exclusively on self-pay occupancy. 

This should include a national minimum fee rate for care homes that reflects the real cost of care. 

In order to relieve recruitment pressures on providers social care wages should be pegged to the NHS at well about the Real Living Wage to encourage parity and the same level of recognition as well as to facilitate workforce sharing between health and social care. 

The writing’s on the wall – we need action now to prevent the system’s collapse. 


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