Bupa report: Elderly at risk as cash-starved care homes face closure

A generation of elderly people face a “tragedy” of worsening care after the number of nursing home companies collapsing through lack of funds doubled in a year, research has found.

Councils have cut the fees that they pay residential homes over the past two years, leaving every resident with a £2,000 annual shortfall in funding for their care.

Analysts warned that council rates are no longer enough to cover the cost of providing even the most basic standards of care required by law, including essential hygiene and safety rules.

At the same time, nursing staff face pay freezes and job cuts as care companies go out of business.

The findings, in two separate reports, will heighten concern that England’s social care system is in crisis, with the pressure on nursing home places forecast to grow as the population ages over the next decade.

Last week, two councils suffered landmark defeats in the High Court over their decisions to cut funding for care and support for elderly and disabled people.

Ministers insist that councils have “no excuse” to reduce services for frail residents after allocating an extra £2 billion for social care in England last year, but council leaders said they were struggling to implement overall budget cuts of up to 30%.

Analysis from Wilkins Kennedy, the accountancy firm, found that the number of care home companies going into administration had more than doubled to 73 between October 2010 and September this year.

During the previous 12 months, 35 care home companies went into administration.

Earlier this year, the country’s biggest care home operator, Southern Cross, collapsed, and research suggested that more companies will follow as council rates are inadequate.

Most care homes are privately run and more than half of residents receive council funding to cover the costs of their care.

Separate research from Laing and Buisson, the health consultants, found that council rates had fallen by 3.9% in real terms and would have to rise by up to 8% each year for the next three years to cover the cost of even the most basic standards of care.

The study, commissioned by Bupa Care Services, said each resident will need to be funded by an extra £41 per week, or £2,132 a year, to ensure that care homes can meet the basic “minimum” standards required by the regulator, the Care Quality Commission.

The watchdog sets rules on treating residents with dignity, cleanliness, control of medicines, and protection from abuse.

But the CQC has condemned standards of care for elderly and disabled adults in a series of critical reports on NHS hospitals and care homes in recent months.

Baroness Sally Greengross, one of the country’s leading experts on elderly issues, warned that more scandals would be inevitable without adequate funding.

Lady Greengross, chief executive of the International Longevity Centre, said the government must “ring-fence” funding for care to stop councils diverting the money to other services.

The government and local authorities have to change their priorities,” she said.

“There will just be a tragedy if it doesn’t happen. The needs of vulnerable people in a civilised society must come first.

“We need to ring fence this money. People in dementia care are very old, and they are often unloved, but they need to be.”

Mark Ellerby, managing director of Bupa Care Services, said: “We want to invest in our care homes and our people but five star service can’t be provided at zero-star prices.”