Britain’s social care industry has warned that it risks collapse unless it receives emergency funding from the government to help pay wages and buy personal protective equipment.
In two letters sent last week to Helen Whately, the minister of care, the Care Providers Alliance, which represents half of all care providers, warned that the government’s failure to meet the increase in operating costs as a result of coronavirus pandemic “risks a collapse of care providers with a significant impact on people, councils and services”.
Although the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has boosted funding for councils to cope with the Covid-19 crisis, the CPA warns that there is no “system in place” to ensure that the funds are given to care providers on the frontline.
The letters, which have been seen by the FT, warn that emergency payments are desperately needed to allow care providers to “purchase PPE and meet the other necessary costs during this pandemic, and to ensure we pay our staff on time”.
“Any late payment would prove disastrous to individuals and providers,” the letters warn. The CPA represents organisations supporting 1.2m people through residential, home-based and community services.
Although social care is largely paid for by the taxpayer, many large providers are owned by private equity groups. There are also a raft of smaller privately funded operators as well as a small number of local authority owned businesses, which are at particular risk of collapse.
The sector was already under strain due to the decline in fees paid for care by local authorities as a result of the government’s austerity programme. Under Britain’s means-tested social care system, many operators subsidise care packages paid for through local authorities fees from more lucrative private clients.
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, many care providers say they have been unable to access sufficient supplies of PPE or tests for Covid-19, leading to almost a third of staff being off sick. About 400,000 older people currently live in UK care homes, and up to two-thirds of facilities are reporting that residents have contracted the virus.
The alliance warns that the sector risks losing confidence in the chancellor’s pledge that the government would do “whatever it takes — that promise applies just as much to social care as it does for the NHS”.
Many care homes taken on additional capacity after being asked to take on elderly patients discharged from hospitals as the pandemic has taken hold. But few have been tested for coronavirus and care homes fear that this could lead to unnecessary deaths. “Discharges of known Covid- 19 status will result in avoidable deaths and subsequent litigation,” one of the CPA letters warns.
Although the government announced fresh measures to boost the supply of PPE to the care sector on Wednesday, it was met with a degree of scepticism by the industry.
Robert Kilgour, chairman of Renaissance Care Homes in Scotland, said: “It’s warm words but what we need is concrete action. It is too little too late on personal protection equipment and availability of testing for care home staff and residents. That said, better late than never and if they do deliver it could make a substantial difference.”
Nick Hood, analyst at Opus Restructuring & Insolvency, which has advised several care home chains, accused the government of “belated recognition of the rapidly expanding catastrophe unfolding in care homes”.
Not only are residents dying, but homes are now operating with significantly reduced occupancy rates “as individual rooms and whole homes have to be cleared for deep cleaning, slashing revenues”, he said.
“At the same time, costs have soared as agency staff have to be brought in to cover for self-isolating care workers and hygiene costs have increased exponentially,” Mr Hood added. “Some homes won’t survive, the only question is how many will close. It’s a moral scandal and a financial disaster.”
The Department of Health has been approached for comment but has not yet responded.
Additional reporting by George Parker