Ministers ‘appear complacent’ over risk of care home closures

MPs warn many operators living ‘hand to mouth’ because of underfunding in the sector

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Wednesday 16 June 2021 01:35 BST
Hancock denies promising tests before patients went to care homes

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the urgent reforms needed in adult social care with many providers living “hand to mouth”, an influential group of MPs warns today.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the sector and emphasised that care is not properly funded.

The committee also accuses ministers of appearing “complacent” about the potential for care home operators to fail.

Ministers have faced intense anger from the public over their handling of care homes during the pandemic.

The health secretary Matt Hancock has also faced accusations that he lied to the prime minister about plans to test care home residents before they were discharged from hospital at the height of the first wave, which he denies.

The government was also accused of letting down millions of people when it emerged that a long-promised social care reform plan was not included in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year.

The report warns that the pandemic has left many care home providers at risk of failing. Average home occupancy was around 90 per cent at the start of the crisis, but fell to around 80 per cent by February this year.

MPs also accused the Department of Health and Social Care of a “reticence” to challenge local authorities in England, most of whom, it says, are paying providers below the cost of care. This has left many care home operators forced to live “hand to mouth”, unable to take long-term decisions which would improve services. At the same time, however, there is a lack of transparency about what people or councils get for the money they spend, MPs found.

The sector also faces a potential population explosion in coming years. If current patterns continue the number of adults aged 65 and over requiring care by 2038 could rise by 57 per cent.

The MPs have called on ministers to set out, by next month, the support providers require in the short to medium term. Long promised proposals for reforms should be published by the end of the year, they add. For their part, providers should have to give clear and comparable information about fees, as well as a breakdown of how the money is spent.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the PAC, said that after decades of neglect care home residents and their families deserve better.

“The reforms to address this now must include a long-term funding plan that allows local authorities and providers to innovate and improve services. We cannot afford more broken commitments on care,” she added.

Edel Harris, from the charity Mencap, said that during the pandemic people with a learning disability had their care cut “when they needed it most, died at shockingly higher rates than the wider population, and the care sector has been pushed to breaking point”. 

Ms Harris also added: “It’s time the prime minister finally matched his words with action to level up the social care system.”

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) has warned local authorities are facing a “deluge” of requests for support as lockdown restrictions ease.

ADASS president Stephen Chandler said: “Some of the numbers we are seeing are phenomenal. The trends are unsustainable and show why the government must publish its plans for social care as a matter of urgency.

“Our findings demonstrate very starkly that the crisis in social care is not just a crisis in the way we support older people. Half our spending is on help for adults of working age.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have sought to protect everyone working in the social care sector or receiving social care, particularly older people who are more vulnerable to the virus, and have provided almost £1.8 billion for the sector, including infection prevention, control measures and prioritised the sector for the vaccine.

“As previously announced, the Health and Care Bill will introduce plans to develop and support improved adult social care oversight across England.

“We are committed to sustainable improvement of the adult social care system and, as affirmed in the Queen’s Speech, we will bring forward proposals later this year to ensure every person receives the care they need, provided with the dignity they deserve.”

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