Consumer watchdog Which? recently published research suggesting that 87% of councils in England will face a care home shortage by 2022, unless urgent action is taken. The news comes amid concern over the rising cost of providing care for the aged, especially after an extended period of austerity.
The report compared bed counts across the country and used ONS data projecting the change in demand to assess how provisions would fare in coming years. The results revealed a shortfall of 42,000 elderly care home beds by 2022.
In addition, Which? found a growing disparity between councils. On the one hand, 14 local authorities are said to risk a particularly acute shortage, including Bracknell Forest, Lewisham, Harringey, Hartlepool and Milton Keynes. On the other hand, Bexley, Peterborough, Stoke-on-Trent, Portsmouth and Trafford are all expected to exceed requirements over the next five years.
The study follows on the heels of another one by the Red Cross, which warns that plans to fully integrate health and social care are behind schedule. The report, entitled ‘Prevention in Action’, expresses particular concern that spending on preventative care has actually gone down.
The Local Government Authority (LGA), meanwhile, has reiterated that adult-care reform has to deliver a sustainable solution. Cllr Izzi Seccombe of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board commented, “Social care services still face an annual £2.3 billion funding gap by 2020. Councils need to be given the freedom and flexibility to spend the additional funding for social care in the places where they feel it will be most effective.”
Addressing the issue
The urgency of the report is made clear by the timescales involved. Research from the Competition and Markets Authority suggests that it can take five to seven years to plan, construct and launch a new care home, which makes it hard for care providers to effectively respond to demand.
This means that councils will need to be able to put their own plans in place to address the shortage. Whether that is with funds, flexibility or greater control over budgets, or a mix of all three, remains to be seen. In the meantime, tight budgets must be closely and carefully managed to get the maximum benefit out of them.
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