Fall in resident numbers puts care homes at risk

Around £7.6 million of public funds alone have been stripped out of care homes in Essex over the past year – prompting fears that care homes may have to close down due to lack of residents.

The actual figure that has been lost due to families unwilling to send their loved ones into care homes is likely to be much higher given that many  residents pay privately.

The level of vacancies within care homes in Essex is leading to concerns that many are not getting the level of business that keeps them viable.

Essex County Council’s (ECC) a £4.1million underspend in health and adult social care at the end of last year has now almost doubled.

But ECC has promised the unspent money will be spent on an expected upturn in demand.

At a meeting of ECC’s cabinet, Councillor John Spence, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “We saw during the crisis an unexpected collapse in the utilisation and demand for places in care homes.

“Partly this is due to what was happening in the care homes themselves partly, due to a reduction in referrals from families.

“This has led to issues of the viability of care homes which is well understood and publicised and has been the subject of separate briefing for councillors.

“We are now working on thinking with the market on how we can ensure that in every part of the county we have a viable offer that combines quality and choice.

“We will expect to see an increase in demand and so the £7.6 million has been put forward as a carry forward for expenditure on social care.

“We expect we will be utilising it to deal with increase in demand around re-ablement and domiciliary care and in dealing with other issues in social care such as mental illness – much of which gets funded at the acute end by the national health service – but in terms of the prevention agenda it is in there we do so much.

“It will be expected that understanding which has been allowed to carry forward will be fully utilised across a range of funding streams.”

It is “almost certain” care homes will have to close due to COVID-19, a report from ECC said at the end of last year.

It leaves 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.

At that time there were 1,700 care vacancies within care homes in Essex, leading to concerns that many are not getting the level of business that keeps them viable.

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.

Essex County Council’s £4.1 million underspend in health and adult social care at the end of last year has now almost doubled.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter