Residents of care homes for the autistic and disabled will be “denied their dignity and quality of life” amid the sector’s financial ruin, according to a leaked watchdog report.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the industry regulator, warns that the the sector is on the verge of collapse due to chronic staff shortages as well as government underfunding.
The crisis facing the struggling sector comes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, which have already seen low staff salaries stagnate as cost of care continues to rise.
According to the annual report released earlier this month by Skills for Care, England’s adult social care planning body, job vacancies increased by a record 52% last yearleaving one in ten positions vacant.
However, it looks like the crisis is about to get worse, with the watchdog warning that the vulnerable will pay the price.
A leaked financial impact assessment, commissioned by members of the CQC Market Oversight Scheme, reveals that adult social care providers fear the sector is on the brink of collapse.
The scheme was established by statute in 2015 following the collapse of the Southern Cross care home chain – which cared for 31,000 residents – following the financial crash and high rents.
“It will deprive them of choice and dignity”
The report, seen by The Telegraph, warned: “Inaction effectively places these consequences on the shoulders of people with a learning disability and/or autism, and their families. It will ultimately deprive them of the choice and the dignity of a decent, fulfilling and stable quality of life.”
All healthcare provider CEOs interviewed in the study believe that these contract retrocessions will accelerate over the next 18 months, with a direct impact on the quality of life of people whose support has become unaffordable. .
Rachael Dodgson, chief executive of Dimensions, one of the UK’s largest learning disabilities and autism charities, said: “For too long we, the people we support, their loved ones and welfare staff have borne the brunt of a failing and underfunded system.
She added that “immediate reform” of the sector is “essential to prevent the system from collapsing or it will be people with intellectual disabilities and people with autism, and their families, who will pay the price”.
“The ghosts of Southern Cross are reappearing and the destabilization its collapse caused to the lives of thousands of elderly people is still fresh in our minds,” she said.
“No support service provider wants to be in the position of having to return contracts and the fact that this is now a reality for many is a testament to the chronic lack of investment in our industry.”
Call for pay equity commitments
The report also issued a series of recommendations for the government including; a call to commit to paying parity for equivalent roles across the NHS; for most frontline workers to be tied to an increased pay band, meaning they are paid at least £10.40 an hour; and for a one-time winter squeeze payment to try and speed up the discharge of elderly people from hospital to nursing homes.
Frontline staff pay rates can vary slightly by provider, but are rarely much above minimum wage.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All patients, including people with learning disabilities and people with autism, should receive safe, high-quality care and be treated with dignity. and respect.
“Funding for health and social services will be maintained at the same level as provided when the Health Care and Social Services Tax was in place, including £5.4 billion for adult social care.
“Most paid carers are employed by private sector providers who set their pay and conditions independently, but the government has raised the national living wage and is working to reduce vacancies.”
“No quick fix”
Deborah Ivanova, CQC’s director for people with learning disabilities and people with autism, said under-investment and a lack of sustained recognition from staff are long-standing issues related to current challenges.
“A lack of investment in one part of the system has consequences for the whole, and the impact that has on people getting good care,” she said.
“While there is no silver bullet, bringing together pockets of local innovation has the potential to help reduce the gridlock we currently see in the health and social care sector.
“Working together, we can try to ensure that next year more people can access quality and safe health and social care – delivered by a better supported workforce that has more reason to be optimistic about the future.”