County Council ignored care home closure warnings

Essex County Council has been accused of ignoring warnings that more needed to be done to support care homes after one in Basildon permanently closed its doors.

Ghyll Grove Care Home had 169 beds and provided dementia care but with only half of its beds being used its operators HC-One said the decision to close was “not taken lightly”.

It is unclear how many more care homes are facing similar financial pressures of falling occupancy as relatives move residents out for fear of coronavirus.

Last November, Councillor Ivan Henderson, leader of the Essex Labour group, told Essex County Council, in response to its assessment at the time, that it was “almost certain” care homes will have to close due to COVID-19 and called for the council to ensure a plan be in place to keep care homes open.

At the time it posed the uncomfortable reality that some elderly residents will have to face the upset and trauma of being moved away from familiar surroundings if providers close in the face of unprecedented financial pressure.

Cllr Henderson also said that families may have to travel further to visit their relatives.

A report published in November revealed there were around 1,700 care vacancies within care homes in Essex prompting concerns that many are not getting the level of business that keeps them viable. It is unclear how many vacancies there are now.

The care home death toll earlier in the year appears to be leaving many wary about putting their loved ones in a care home, where during the height of the pandemic visitors were not allowed to enter in a bid to protect those residents inside.

ECC’s half yearly report revealed a £4.1 million underspend in health and adult social care. Within that budget a reduced volume in older people in residential and domiciliary care has left the council £3.4 million better off.

Cllr Henderson said in response to the report: “I want Essex County Council to ensure there is a plan in place to keep these care homes open. Where is the care going to be provided for people who need that care?

“And what is the overall picture of our care sector in Essex? It is quite a worrying situation.”

Asked about the situation in Basildon, ECC’s cabinet member for adult social care and health John Spence said he was confident residents can be re-homed within a ten mile area.

“We can aspect a realignment of the market” he added.

“We would expect to find more people living at homes and thus the demand for residential care will diminish.”

Cllr Henderson added: “I said at the time that if we are seeing these warnings we need to have a plan in place so we can step straight in  and do whatever we can to possibly keep that care home open or plan to ensure we have vacancies which can support these families and residents not too far away.

“Because of the situation we are in – not just ECC – but the government needs to step in. We are going to need these care homes in the future.

“At the moment people may be having second thoughts about putting their loved ones in a care home but we are going to need them in the future.

“Residents are being forced out of their own homes.”

Cllr Spence added: “Ghyll Grove has faced significant challenges in recent years and ECC has not placed residents in the home since July 2020.

“It is currently about 50 per cent full and there is surplus care home capacity within a few miles radius.

“ECC is committed to ensuring a sustainable care sector which offers quality and choice in every part of the county.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter