Care Home Crisis

Across the country there are millions of elderly people requiring around the clock care. As you age you increasingly have to rely upon the services of others to be able to cope and live day-to-day.

While many families are happy help as much as they can, they can only do so much, and if an old person is deemed to have reached a level where they need a more consistent, professional, around the clock help.

Hospitals can help to a point, to keep someone healthy, but an elderly patient may become a ‘bed blocker’-taking up valuable beds in sometimes stretched to capacity hospitals. The next level of help would be for the person to go into a care home.

On average for a single person a nursing home will cost £36,000 per year. As it stands the council will cover hospital costs but ask people to contribute to nursing homes. In the past there have been many nursing homes owned and run by the council, but due to a lack of funding councils have been forced to close nearly all council run homes, putting thousands of people requiring care into privately run homes.

Council run care homes tend to be cheaper, more ‘clinical’ and the standards of both the actual home and quality of life of the people living in the home is generally lower than that of a privately run care home. Privately run care homes are generally expected to be more lavish and ‘hotel like’ and the residents should be receiving a better level of care (owing to the fact they’re paying more).

When it comes to selecting a care home, currently people have to make a choice as to whether they want to spend all of their savings plus the money made by selling their homes or whether they go somewhere cheaper. Unfortunately, such is the politics of care homes and the council/government in general, if an elderly person decides they would like to go private, they still run the risk of not receiving a good quality of care, resulting in a lower quality of life.

This is due to the care homes being increasingly profit driven and trying to widen the gap between the money going out and the money coming in. Therefore sadly even if someone does decide to spend what money they have on moving into a ‘decent’ private care home, the private care homes themselves aren’t always of the high standards people would expect when paying large amounts of money. Over the years the cost of living in any care home has risen, which is in stark juxtaposition to the falling level of care.

70% of all private care homes fail to meet legal standards. These standards are judged by staff levels, staff training and risks to residents. This has been confirmed by the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission). In Coventry one third of homes are rated at 1-star (adequate) or 0-star (poor) in latest CQC (Care Quality Commission) survey. Statutory failures include staff shortages, below minimum staff training, problems administering medicines, illegal non-registration of managers, and inadequate procedures to respond to abuse allegations.

Ironically the CQC has also been affected by government cuts: Inspections have been cut because of growing workloads. Staff are having to refocus their efforts on reregistering 30,000 care providers to met new legislation. Also there has also been a recruitment freeze to save money which in turn means that the workload will not be lowered therefore inspections will continue being cut. It’s a vicious cycle that has gripped many companies across the country.

Unfortunately even though people are allowed have little or no choice anymore as there are nearly no council owned care homes, meaning the vast majority of care homes are privately owned. Therefore people are left with the prospect of selling their homes (homes they’ve worked for all their life to pay off and fully own) in order to afford to be in care.

In 1990 the government said anyone with assets in excess of £16,000 (including their homes) were expected to pay for their care up until the point where all their money was exhausted. Once this point was reached the state would take over and pay the rest.

In 2001 the limit was raised £18,500 and in 2008 the limit was raised to £22,250. This meant that people would be unfairly paying for a larger percentage of their essential care, allowing the councils and government to save millions of pounds.

In 2011 the coalition government launched an independent commission to consider all options for funding long term care including its preferred voluntary insurance scheme, meaning that at the age of 65 you would pay a one-off charge of £8,000. However critics were quick to point out that that figure would still be beyond the means of many people.

However when polled more than 80% of care home residents said that they are paying in excess of £350 per week and don’t get any assistance. With the state pension working out at approximately £381 per month (£95.25 per week – leaving only £7.75 per week to live on) this means a proper care home is all too often out of the reach of a large percentage of pensioners. This leads to many people opting not to move into a care home but to stay in their own homes, unable to properly care for themselves.

In Coventry both council run and privately run care homes fall under social services, which in (in the case of council run care homes) falls under the category of the Coventry county council. Coventry county council has had to make the many cuts in funding, including the funding of council run care homes. This is a direct response to Coventry county council receiving less money from the government because of the government’s long term plan to ease the current national economic crisis.

Unfortunately now the crisis is such that even if the government spent £2billion nationally, it would not plug the gap from the unprecedented 27% funding cuts.

While this spells bad news for council run care hones, privately run care homes are also going through a difficult time. Privately run care home Southern Cross has recently had to shut down due to lack of funding. The process began when the UK’s biggest care home operator said it was unable to pay its rent bills to its landlord.

The company’s shares plummeted and were left with little or no value, and 250 homes were immediately transferred to other operators. Within its homes were over 31,000 elderly people, a large percentage of whom required a high quality and consistent level of care. While many residents’ and their families were righty worried in the uncertain times, Labour MP John Mann was quick to point out that “no resident should be forced to move out of their home” and that the transition would be as quick and seamless as possible.

Also to help with the transition many of Southern Cross’s managerial and back-room staff have been kept on in order to provide some continuity and make any changes in care and within the care homes themselves less noticeable.

The issue of care homes and care for the elderly has only been brought up because of the takeover of Southern Cross. In the past the media has generally ignored the low standards and personal stories of people living in the homes. If there is a story about it tends to be buried within the middle of a newspaper or only briefly mentioned on a news program. There is seemingly a rule of thumb that celebrity gossip is of more interest to the public than hearing about old people and care homes.

So while the takeover of the UK’s biggest care home provider is in itself quite big news, it has aided in shedding some light onto a deeper subject that is all too often skimmed over by the general public. The effect of this could be that people start to take an interest in the subject of care homes and start to demand of their council to readdress the balance of funding to council run care homes.

For example if people in Coventry make enough fuss about the situation to county council, then Coventry county council (along with other councils) will hopefully make enough fuss about the situation to the government. In turn the government should take a proper look into the care home situation and hopefully provide sufficient funding to the councils, who should then pump a sufficient percentage of that funding into social services and care homes.

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