Avnish has over 20 years’ experience managing multi-award-winning care provider, Hallmark Care Homes. He is also the chair of Care England, which is the leading representative body for independent care services and is one of the founding Trustees of The Care Worker’s Charity.
The social care sector has faced many challenges but the biggest overarching issue is that the government keeps social care low on its agenda. The UK’s ageing population continues to grow increasing demand for the care home places and according to Knight Frank occupancy levels have reached a record high of 89.4%. Yet the social care funding crisis continues with almost 7,000 beds deregistered in 2017/18. The government should see social care as part of the solution in terms of how we look after our nation, but unfortunately it is seen as the poor cousin to the NHS. From that flows the way that the social care system is funded as the money the NHS receives largely stays within the NHS.
Moreover, the delay of the Green Paper continues to demonstrate that the government’s focus is on other things including Brexit and this is disappointing. Successive governments are scared to tackle these issues whilst those requiring services become more likely to never see changes in their lifetime. This needs to become a national and a cross party issue and solutions should come from a coalition of the political parties. This working group also needs to consult with the sector to ensure that the solutions are realistic.
The group need also to consider the creaking stock of care homes, many that are not fit for the 21st century built between 30 and 50 years ago. Things will only change with proper local authority funding of care fees and also planners seeing the social and economic benefit of these care homes being built. On the flip side we are seeing an almost oversupply in the affluent areas of the country as operators cater for the private pay market. This is a continuing concern in that we are going to have a two-tier system for those that can afford good quality care in high-quality surroundings and those that rely on state-funded care and have to deal with red tape, unfair assessment criteria and places purchased by local authorities on price rather than quality.
Another concern which is affecting everyone right now is staffing. We haven’t got enough qualified managers with the relevant experience to run care homes and we don’t have enough nurses to support the NHS and social care. We are also not training enough nurses nor are we recognising the need to bring them over from overseas. Brexit has made the issue worse with many EU nationals returning home due to the uncertainties of their residency status. Cross party collaboration between the political parties is needed to ensure that the need to increase immigration for these skilled workers to come to the UK is understood.
Finally, we are still not attracting enough people into social care as carers to deliver front line services and this is a huge worry. We are also facing further competition in keeping our staff from other service sectors such as hotels, restaurants and the retails sector who have their own staffing issues. We need to make a career in care as an attractive and fulfilling option for our workforce.
If we are to avert what is already a crisis urgent action needs to be taken. The sector needs to form a think tank of the key influencers and best brains and come together to create a lobbying and advisory group. A Commissioner for Older People would also be useful, independent of government, who would fight for the rights of older people and ensure that the relevant bodies fulfil their statutory duties. Otherwise I fear the care sector will continue to struggle to meet the needs of our older population who after a life of contribution deserve excellent care in environments that befit them.