My job as the Opposition Spokesperson for Health & Adult Care at Suffolk County Council has been to hold the administration to account on its record of caring for Suffolk’s elderly. I have too often heard heartbreakingly sad stories of service failure, and seen the evidence with my own eyes. Many times it’s been drawn to my attention that lessons which could have, and should have, been learned from the past have been ignored.
What saddens me most, though, is that everyone – be it central government or the administration at Suffolk County Council – seems to be blissfully ignoring the tell tail signs of impending and severe systemic failure of Suffolk’s Care Homes.
By turning the care of our nation’s elderly in to a ‘market’, the quality of care in our residential homes depends entirely on the profit that can be made from them. However, while some residents are self-funding, the majority are either partially or entirely sponsored by the state. Therefore, a care home’s profitability depends in large part on the rates paid to care providers by Local Government.
When we consider that the regional average cost incurred for keeping one elderly resident in a care home comes to £31,000 per year, and that the average rate paid by Suffolk County Council comes to around £19,000 per year, it is easy to see why running a care home is notoriously difficult. This situation is only getting worse, as government cuts force local authorities to cut services again and again.
In 2012, the County Council took the decision to sell all the council run care homes. The result of this unwise course of action is that, in the event of provider failure (be it an ‘Inadequate’ rating, or closure), the Council must organise alternative accommodation for affected residents. This necessitates continuous communication and negotiation with providers, but this can go wrong for a number of reasons (there can be a break down in communications, a care home could be full, or a provider may just be unwilling to take on any new residents that are not self-funding).
Keeping several care homes under Council control would have provided a simple and easy fall-back position, should the worst happen. This means that Suffolk is less able to meet its legal duty of care in these situations.
The care homes with the best ratings are generally charitably or not for profit family run care homes, the issues inevitably arise when big companies see the chance to make a quick profit out of the vulnerable and then move on to their next pickings. How long will BUPA, Barchester, Care UK et al continue in the care market?
I believe we have a moral responsibility to ensure that we have nothing but the best possible care for elderly residents. But with a fast growing population and more financial strain than ever on care providers, the question is: is Suffolk County Council prepared for the challenge?
Sarah Adams, Cllr for St Margaret’s & Westgate