Fewer care homes closed in 2020 after coronavirus funding ‘interrupted normal pattern of closures’

Fewer care homes closed during 2020 than in previous years, which may be due to Government coronavirus funding having “interrupted that normal pattern of closures”, a committee has been told.

Enforcement action from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) led to the closure of 63 care homes in 2019, while 482 homes voluntarily closed during that year, the Public Accounts Committee heard.

In 2020, 65 homes closed due to enforcement action but only 361 homes closed voluntarily.

Michelle Dyson, director general of adult social care at the Department of Health and Social Care, told MPs there had been “fewer exits than we would expect in a normal year, and we would surmise that that is to do with the extra support that we’ve put in”.

Ian Trenholm (pictured), CQC chief executive, added: “During the first quarter of this calendar year, the slowing has continued, so in other words there’s more capacity in the market than one would expect, and all of that translates into probably 1,000 or so beds that remain in the market that one would normally have expected to leave.

“I think it is too early to form, broad assumptions as to as to why that might be, but I think the point… around additional Government support has definitely interrupted that normal pattern of closures, and kept some locations open.”

Local authorities have been given billions of pounds of funding – some of which has been ringfenced for spending on adult social care – to help them respond to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

This includes around £1.1 billion ringfenced infection control funding, and £120 million announced at the start of this year to support the social care workforce.

Local authorities received £4.5 billion non-ringfenced coronavirus funding over 2020-21.

The committee was told that 45% of all Covid-19 funding given to councils has been spent on adult social care services, and 87% of this has gone to providers.

Of the non-ringfenced funding, 35% has been spent on social care.

The CQC estimates that there has been a 10% drop in occupancy levels for non-specialist care and nursing homes, which Mr Trenholm said have “very much borne the brunt of the Covid period”.

On average, last year the occupancy rate was 80%, around the level most homes need in order to break even.

He added: “So what we’re seeing is, for some care homes they are operating below break-even point and are being kept alive by that support.”

Mr Trenholm said these homes have seen a big reduction in the number of people privately funding their care, which is having an impact on profit margins.

He said: “The reason for that is simply that if people are at home and can’t get into care homes, they’re not going to pay to put their loved one into a care home, people are going to perhaps keep their loved one with them in their own home for longer.

“So it follows, I suppose, that when society starts to open up, when Covid starts to go away, people will then start placing their relatives into care homes.”

The sector for homes providing specialist care, for example for people with learning disabilities, is “pretty resilient and is at the moment looking OK”, he added.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The Care Quality Commission.