For the care sector, the first three months of 2023 have been dominated by funding news – with the government both allocating new funds and withdrawing some promised support, with implications for care home providers, investors and managers, the NHS, local councils and the elderly. The topic has come under the scrutiny of both politicians and religious leaders, which has been particularly pertinent given the ongoing impact of rising energy bills on the sector.
UK Government announces £250 million fund for the NHS to free beds
Following the first announcement on January 8th by Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay that the NHS will be provided with a £250 million budget to ‘buy extra beds in care homes and other settings’ to ease hospital bed waiting times in local areas, there has been a mixed response as to whether this is good news for struggling social care providers – or an omen of increasing challenges for the sector.
While the prospect of new funding into the sector is always a welcome sign, it comes with a caveat: whilst care home fees will be paid for senior patients being discharged from hospital, these patients typically require more care and attention than residents already within a care facility. This translates to increased pressures on already-overworked care staff, less bed availability for people who require care independently, as well as fears that patients may be discharged into care environments not equipped to manage their unique needs.
To balance this exchange, Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, has argued that care homes will need “at least £1,500” per resident per week – around double the cost of a typical council rate. However, whether this fee can be successfully agreed between the NHS and local care homes could be make – or break – for some social care operators, comments Care Home Professional.
Government investment in care skills halved
Reports emerged that planned funding for social care development from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) may fall short of original promises by at least £550 million.
The Health Service Journal revealed in a tip-off that support pledged in the DHSC’s People at the Heart of Care whitepaper in December 2021, which had been marked for investment in knowledge, skills, health, wellbeing and recruitment policies to “improve social care as a long-term career choice”, was potentially at risk of being heavily reduced – or removed entirely.
Ministers confirmed that the original promise of a £500 million investment in staff was being halved, with The Guardian identifying the loss of a further £300 million intended to increase the range of supported housing options.
Not surprisingly, the news prompted strong responses from the sector. Councillor Nurullah Turan, of Islington Council, penned an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, revealing that the costs of care will already outstrip their allocated budget by £3.3 million, due to vacancy rates, inflation, staff costs and hospital discharge processes.
Councils told to improve social care targets – or miss out on funding
For councils, such as Islington, there was some positive news, with an additional £2 billion in social care grants from the Department of Health and Social Care – if they can deliver “tangible improvements in adult social care services”.
The news was shortly followed by the announcement of three additional grants totalling £60 million; however, only one is intended to go towards adult social care: The Local Reform and Community Voices grant.
Sadly, whilst some additional funding is being supplied to local authorities to enact social care improvements, it comes as Government data revealed that there is a £2.3 billion shortfall in pledged social care support, where official estimates have not been adjusted to account for inflation.
Call for national fee rate for social care
A novel approach to level the playing field and promote collaboration between local authorities and providers was proposed by the Independent Care Group (ICG), which has called for national tariffs on social care package fees to help protect care services from a “brutal and unfair” funding regime.
Mike Padgham, Chair of the ICG, has called for an end to the postcode lottery of care that has set providers against local authorities to bargain for fees, as well as a national minimum wage for care staff, to ensure a fairer price is given to all care services. Implementing a national tariff would “remove the need for local negotiations which are both time-consuming and divisive”.
House of Lords debates social care plan
With funding of social care so high on the political agenda and gaining so much coverage, it was fitting that the House of Lords debated the state of social care in the UK and the solutions that could be implemented to make it clearer and more coherent ahead of the Government’s Spring social care plan.
Recommendations included gaining a ‘realistic assessment’ of the needs of those entering long-term care and the extent of individual funding available, better systems for how data is shared between health and care services, and more accountability for the regulation of all routes into care – rather than focusing on care homes alone.
Church of England calls for universal social care approach
The topic has also been a priority for the Church of England, whose Reimagining Care Commission published its report, ‘Care and Support Reimagined: a National Care Covenant for England’. It proposes the creation of a National Care Covenant, offering universal access to social care funded by a UK tax rise. The planned approach would cost £15 billion to implement.
In response to the strategy, Natasha Curry, Nuffield Trust’s Deputy Director of Policy, said: “The commission is right that we need a fundamental shift in how we think of social care if we want to see the meaningful change needed […] we hope these proposals bring social care back into the government’s focus.”
Scottish Lib Dems block National Care Service Bill
In February, the Scottish National party faced fierce opposition to its proposed National Care Service Bill from the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party, which argued that the plan is a “billion-pound bureaucracy”.
The concerns, raised by Lib Dem leader and health spokesperson, Alex Cole-Hamilton, are that the scheme ignores the systemic problems within Scottish social care – namely standards, pay and conditions for care staff – and could let down those already within the social care system.
Energy support costs for social care lacking
In January, there was disappointment in the lack of energy bill support for social care services announced by the Chancellor, as many care providers found they may not be eligible for the discounts offered. Care England data from the period showed that increasing energy costs for an average 50-bed care home could rise from around £40,000 to £120,000 — but those securing wholesale energy are unlikely to benefit from the scheme unless prices double.
The Spring Budget in March extended energy bill support to June, which may provide some extra cushioning for care service costs. However, more support is urgently needed, says Care UK, which has called for formal Government commitments to a properly funded energy social tariff.
Care providers fear they may already be over-paying for energy with increasing charges of up to 500% reported, following concerning evidence discovered by an Ofgem investigation. This includes significantly higher charges and breaches of compliance from energy suppliers, at the care sector’s expense.
Care home to save over a third on energy costs with eco investment
In efforts to become more self-sufficient and reduce cost-of-living pressures, Foxholes Care Home has installed 132 solar panels to offset a large proportion of its daytime energy consumption. The project, delivered by Use The Sun, will help to reduce more than a third of predicted energy costs as well as carbon emissions.
For more information about the energy cost crisis and expert recommendations that can help mitigate costs for care homes, read our expert tips.
If you are a care home investor, owner or provider with an interest in professional social care consultancy, please get in touch.