Care homes will close if “vital” financial lifeline is cut

Care homes across Wales will be forced to close unless an emergency funding scheme is extended.

That’s the warning from Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent social care providers, who say the Welsh Government’s “vital” financial lifeline is only guaranteed until the end of March.

Chief executive Mary Wimbury said cutting it would be a hammer blow to the care homes that are already teetering of brink of financial ruin.

She said they had been hit hard by a double whammy of soaring costs and plummeting income as a result of the pandemic.

The Welsh Government had so far provided an extra £88 million in funding for social care.

They are currently finalising next year’s budget but there is no guarantee that additional funding will be available after March 31.

According to Ms Wimbury, the hardship fund has been crucial in keeping care homes open in the face of the unprecedented pressures caused by the spread of the deadly virus.

Without it, she said, all care homes in Wales were potentially at risk.

The new, more infectious strains of Covid-19 were deeply worrying and making life even more difficult for care homes.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show there have been nearly 1,400  Covid-related deaths in care homes up to January 22, with nearly a quarter of the total number of deaths being linked to the virus.

The week up to January 22 also saw the highest weekly tally of care home deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The sector was already fragile before the coronavirus crisis began and the pandemic threatened to put  many providers out of business.

The scale of the problem, she said, was illustrated by the fact that Wales’ 650 care homes provided 23,000 beds  which was 10,000 more that the number of beds in hospitals.

Ms Wimbury said: “Unlike a lot of other businesses, care homes have to carry on during this pandemic and their costs have gone up – it’s things like the increased staffing, infection control measures and also we’ve seen more empty beds during the crisis so income’s gone down,”.

“We’ve only got a guarantee that’s going to be there until the end of March this year and it’s absolutely vital if we’re to keep the sector sustainable in any way that it continues beyond that because we’re not going to have seen the end of the pandemic by the end of March.

“If the funding stops, I can’t see how we won’t see care homes closing, very sadly.

“That will obviously have a serious effect – not just on future provision, but also on those people that live in those homes that are in that situation.

“You’re talking about vulnerable older people. The last thing you want is for them to have to move in any circumstances, but particularly during a pandemic.”

The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots, welcomed the financial support provided to the social care sector but she warned: “We’re not through this pandemic yet.

“It’s going to be important that Welsh Government continues to provide the support that’s needed over the coming weeks and months as we go through the next phase of the pandemic.”

Ms Wimbury added: “As well as supporting the sector in the short-term, it’s also vital that care homes and domiciliary care survive in the longer-term because the need for them is not going to go away.

“The social care sector has previously been recognised by the Welsh Government as one the key pillars of the foundation economy in Wales.

“Before this crisis care homes on average were running at around 91 per cent occupancy which has just about enabled them to keep going despite the funding challenges.

“The First Minister himself admitted that the sector was fragile even before the pandemic.

“As a result of the outbreak, occupancy levels are falling and wage costs are going through the roof while income is dropping.

“If average occupancy drops to 85 per cent or even  below the whole of the infrastructure of social care in Wales is under genuine threat.

“Occupancy levels at many care homes has dropped to 50 per cent or less and that’s just totally unsustainable.

“The testing regime is also leading to reduced occupancy and putting even more pressure on sector. We are still seeing a significant number of false positive results and any care homes thought to  have an outbreak are flagged as red cannot accept new residents for at least 20 days.

“Potentially all care homes are in danger of closure and the market will be unstable without the necessary financial support and a strategic plan to ensure that the sector can survive beyond the pandemic.

“The consequences of not doing so are enormous and would place a colossal burden on the public purse.

“If we lose our care home, the beds would cost a minimum of £100,000 each to replace which works out at a total of £2.5 billion, and that’s without the cost of the land.

“Unless the financial aid package continues, we are looking at mass care home closures and that would be a disaster for everybody concerned, particularly the vulnerable people for whom we provide care.

“The other factor we need to bear in mind is that care homes and domiciliary care companies underpin the NHS.

“Our hospitals are already creaking under the strain and without the support provided by the social care sector they would be totally overwhelmed.

“It is of critical importance that we maintain the capacity in our care homes otherwise the future is going to be even more bleak for the older people in our population.”

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