A crisis is looming in nursing care with the closure of thousands of old people's homes, leaving the state and private sector unable to cope, ministers were warned yesterday. Figures from independent analysts showed that pensioners needing full-time care would outstrip the number of nursing-home beds by 2005.
The analysis, by Laing & Buisson, raised fresh doubts over the Government's ability to hit its target of providing 6,000 new care beds by 2006. The Department of Health insisted funding was increasing to help elderly people to live in their own homes.
But the Liberal Democrats said ministers had "no idea" how to meet the target and called for an immediate inquiry into falling care home fees.
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on elderly people, said: "We could be looking at meltdown in the care-home sector in 2005. Analysis of supply and demand in care-home places shows that England will not be able to cope with the forecast 4 per cent increase in older people needing care over the next three years.
"Care homes are closing faster than new ones are becoming available. You only have to look at the situation in Birmingham to see how close to crisis we are already."
There has been a sharp rise in care-home closures in the past year with owners blaming low local authority fees, high property prices and increases in regulation. William Laing, of Laing and Buisson, said the number of elderly people requiring care was stable but he warned that rising closures would cause severe problems.
"There is a dearth of new care-home development and there are a large number of care-home closures. It's not viable to open new care homes for state-funded clients. There is a significant risk that the shortages will become much more acute in the next few years if local authorities do not increase their fees, and the Government does not give the system more money."
But a Department of Health spokesperson said the decline in the number of beds mirrored a decline in demand. "Local authorities are increasingly providing alternative forms of care to residential accommodation," the spokesperson said.
"The number of households receiving intensive home care increased by 43,000 between 1997 and 2001. We are investing record amounts of money in social services."
The spokesperson added: "For some people, a place in a care home will be the most appropriate solution and we have made provision for an extra 6,000 local authority-supported care home residents.
"There is also money to raise the fees paid by councils for care-home places, if that is what is required to stabilise the care-home market."
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