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‘Significant reforms’ needed to meet increasing care needs, CMA finds

More funding is needed to sustain the current model of care home provision, a report has found.

The Competition and Markets Authority’s ‘Care homes market study’ discovered that in order to meet the expected substantial increase in care needs, “significant reforms” are needed to the sector.

The report also says that those who require care need more support in choosing a care home and greater protections as residents.

Office for National Statistics research has previously stated that between 2015 and 2025 the number of people aged over 85 will increase by 36%, which is expected to lead to a “substantial increase in demand for care home services.”

The CMA has predicted that the ageing population combined with increasing care needs will cost an additional £1bn to £2bn a year by 2025.

The UK has around 5,500 different care home providers in the UK, with around 410,000 residents.

Around 95% of their beds are provided by the independent sector, and local authorities commission care services from independent providers.

Local authorities have a legal obligation to provide care for those with “eligible needs”, depending on an individual’s financial circumstances.

According to the report, in 2016 the average cost for a self-funder was £846 per week, with local authorities paying an average of £621 per week.

Responding to the report, councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, called the report “yet another powerful warming that many care homes are not sustainable.”

She said: “Already we are seeing an unfair, unequal two-tier system emerging between those able to choose and pay for their own care, and those reliant on increasingly overstretched council-funded care that is struggling to meet people’s needs as a result of chronic underfunding of adult social care.”

She explained that whilst councils have been doing “all they can” to protect services, “they can only do so much.”

Referring to the funding gap of an estimated £1.3bn between what providers feel they need and what councils pay, she added: “This is an immediate gap that is impacting on the system today, and part of a wider annual £2.3bn shortfall that adult social care will face by 2020.”

Seccombe welcomed the social care green paper, which was recently pushed back until next summer, but stressed that “people who need care and support right now cannot be left to make do with sub-standard quality until then.

“Urgent action is needed now.”

She  added: “It was hugely disappointing the government didn’t address the social care crisis in the Autumn Budget, and needs to put this right in the Local Government Finance Settlement.

“If the system is left to carry on as it is, then we will see more and more providers either pulling out of council contracts or going out of business altogether.”

The CMA also found that people often make decisions about care under distressing circumstances, often with urgency, and the complexity of the system can overwhelm them.

Once in care, the report says that it is “very difficult for residents to correct a poor choice, as once settle in a care home they find moving to a different home extremely stressful.”

Therefore, the authority has said that residents and their families should feel empowered to raise any concerns they may have.

Currently, the system is perceived as confusing and poorly signposted, and residents are sometimes concerned that there may be reprisals if the complain.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said that whilst their ‘Annual review of adult social care complaints’ recently highlighted the hard work that many care providers have undertaken to make their complaints processes more accessible, more needs to be done.

He said: “We welcome the CMA’s recommendation for statutory signposting to us, which would place the onus firmly on care providers to make this right known to their service users.

“This already exists in other parts of the UK and we have called for it in England for a number of years.”

He added that their work also shows a need for better information for service users and their families to allow them to make informed choices about care, and welcomed the report’s call for this.

“We know many people simply give up after they have been through the local complaints process even if they remain unhappy.

“Care staff should be empowered to provide swift and proportionate responses so as not deter people from pursuing their concerns,” he continued.

“Above all, we want to see a culture shift in the approach to complaints.

“We know the best councils and care providers empower their workforce to deal with complaints and to view them as free feedback and an opportunity to learn from their mistakes – and those of others – to drive service improvements.

“This can only be done by taking ownership of complaints, and their outcomes, at the highest level,” King concluded.

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