Care Cash Crisis Claims A Heavy Toll

A third of all care homes in Merseyside have closed in the last four years as a result of a growing financial crisis and care home owners in Liverpool have warned they could all fold within a decade if funding issues are not urgently addressed.

It has emerged that Liverpool City Council will be reviewing its funding position this week in a bid to help care homes survive. The move came the day after it was announced that Kelton Grange nursing home, in Aigburth, will close in the next 12 months.

Care home closures have become a fact of life, not least since the Government determined that elderly people should be cared for at home where possible. But every time one closes, the effects on its vulnerable residents are devastating and leaders of the care sector say there will always be a need for residential and nursing homes.

Chairman of Liverpool’s health and adult social care select committee, Cllr Ron Gould, said: “We have over the years paid a level below other authorities, but I think that is because we were being careful with our money. On Thursday, we will be looking at what we are paying and whether we need to pay more. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but that is what we are doing.

“People are happier staying at home, there is no doubt about that, but there will always be a need for residential and nursing homes.

“We do have problems with a number of them closing, but these tend to be in the best parts of Liverpool, where the land is lucrative. That’s a sad fact of life.” According to figures from the Commission for Social Care Inspection, in 2002 there were 814 homes in the region, and now there are only 542.

Most of the closures have taken place in Liverpool where there are 128 homes left, 48% less than in 2002. In Wirral, 27% of homes have closed, with 155 remaining. A quarter of Sefton’s 254 homes have now shut their doors and 49% of Knowsley homes have closed, leaving 32. There are currently 36 homes in St Helens compared to 43, which is a 16% drop.

Cllr Gould added: “To say that all homes will close within 10 years if funding is not increased is a pretty wide, sweeping statement. All homes have problems, but that will not be allowed to happen.”

Cllr Robert Brennan, Labour’s health and social care spokesman on Sefton Council, said: “Although a lot of homes have been closed over the last couple of years, I am more than happy with the care that’s provided at the homes we do have. {mospagebreak}

“We are always looking for more funding, but the department is managing it OK. I still have major reservations about the private sector, however, in terms of staff pay.”

Wavertree MP and former junior health minister Jane Kennedy yesterday submitted questions to Parliament about the amount of money local authorities pay to care homes for each resident.

Liverpool pays £397.50 per person every week for elderly nursing care, and between £274.50 and £330.50 for residential care. That was the lowest amount paid for residential care by any authority in the region, but St Helens Borough Council pays less for elderly nursing care at £358. Knowsley and Wirral councils are the most generous in the region.

Jane Kennedy said last night: “I don’t believe Liverpool City Council are prepared to pay for a decent service, and this is putting elderly people at risk.”

Arthur Wood, chairman of the Liverpool Care Homes Association, said: “The rate Liverpool City Council pay amounts to little more than £45 a night – that is about the same amount you would pay for a night in a budget hotel. But we don’t just provide a room, we provide food, care, laundry services, everything. The council is just being irresponsible.”

Last year, Wirral Borough Council increased care home fees by up to 18% to stem the crisis for care homes. Though this helped care home owners keep their heads above water, the hike affected hundreds of pensioners who paid for their own care.

The relative of a resident of Sylvan residential home, in Birkenhead, said: “Fees went up from just over £1,100 to £1,410.m Then the home owner increased the fees again by another 5%. That was all in less than a year. It is a huge burden to place on an elderly person.”

A spokesman for Wirral Borough Council said: “Last year we had a massive review of funding for care homes, restructuring according to a star rating system. This means we give a flat rate to all homes, but to encourage them to improve training and other services within their homes, we have a system where we pay more to the places with more stars. So far, this has worked really well.”
Judy Ball hoped her mother, Margaret, would be in Kelton Grange for the rest of her life.

She says the 94-year-old would not still be alive if it were not for the dedication of the staff at the Aigburth nursing home.

Ms Ball, of West Derby, said: “I don’t know what we will do now. When you look for a home for your parents, you search high and low for the right place for them. Some of the places we went to look at were horrendous. It’s hard, you don’t expect to have to do it again. She feels safe there, she knows everyone there. She is 94. At her age, she doesn’t want to have to move from somewhere she feels secure.”

Ms Ball’s mother has been a resident of Kelton for eight years. It is within walking distance for her other daughter, Maria. Judy Ball said she and her sister, along with the other relatives are determined to do everything they can to keep Kelton Grange open.

She said: “I think a lot of us just don’t believe the story. It seems so sudden. They said they were having financial problems, but in March they told us they were not closing the home. They have a big Victorian building on that site, which used to be the convent. It would be worth a lot of money to a developer and we think Nugent know that.