Emergency funding will be postcode lottery, warns social care leader

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A social care leader fears that emergency funding for care homes to deal with the Covid-19 crisis will turn into an unfair postcode lottery – with some getting thousands of pounds more than others.

According to Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, it was a welcome “quick fix” but said the only answer in the long run was an urgent national action plan to ensure the survival of the social care sector which provided a vital service for the nation’s most vulnerable people.

One of the main problems was that the Welsh Government had handed over the £40 million in coronavirus funding to local authorities to distribute to social care providers and they were going about it in different ways.

While some councils were on the front foot in getting the money to the front  line, others were being obstructive and unreasonably bureaucratic.

Mr Kreft was speaking after Cardiff Council announced a rescue package for care homes in the capital.

There, care homes will receive a temporary payment of £80 extra per week for every bed commissioned by the council for the 11 weeks between 16 March and 31 May to support the sector against the unprecedented challenges posed by the deadly outbreak.

In Cardiff it will be supported by a further sustainability grant which will reimburse homes for all vacancies as a direct result of Covid-19 (both confirmed and symptomatic cases) at 100% of the standard fee up to May 31 – and vitally all vacancies up to the usual vacancy level of the home where it is unable to take new admissions due to Covid-19.

Mr Kreft said: “The emergency funding that’s been announced in Cardiff is very welcome and a step in the right direction.

“It is a quick fix that’s providing a sticking plaster to cover the immediate crisis.

“What we need is a national action plan to ensure the survival of care homes in Wales and this is just one of the components that will help us sustain capacity right across Wales.

“The double whammy of falling occupancy levels and soaring costs in terms of staffing and PPE are posing an existential threat to social care.

“It is essential that no community in Wales is ignore or left to fend for itself with a loss of capacity that it cannot afford.

“It would appear that Cardiff City Council are leading the way and we are very pleased with the package of support they have come up with to overcome the immediate crisis.

“As the First Minister himself pointed out, the social care sector was in a fragile state before all of this began and it’s clearly even more fragile now, so we need an action plan that is going to sustain care homes in the long term, during and beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

“Coronavirus is obviously a threat to people, but it is also a danger to the independent sector in the same way that it is a threat to many organisations, whether they are airlines or steelworks.

“Without a real action plan and proper partnership working, we are facing the real prospect of losing a significant number of beds across Wales.

“The major issue in the long term is occupancy. Even in normal times it needs to be above 90 per cent for care homes to survive and remain financially viable.

“Below that and you’re in trouble. If it falls below 85 per cent you’re heading towards closure because the sums do not add up.

“After being managed in the way it has as a matter of policy over the past two decades, the sector is in a parlous state and if we’re not careful it will be decimated.

“Funding the social care sector has been the responsibility of local government and health board for nearly a generation and their policies have led directly to social care being in such a fragile state going into the Covid-19 crisis.

“The £40 million in emergency funding is the first tranche of aid to the social care sector allocated by the Welsh Government.

“The distribution has started in some areas, or is being worked on in other but I am sorry to say there are other areas.

“Cardiff and others, including some in North Wales, are on the front foot in terms to getting money to providers on the front line. Others would already appear to be putting up hurdles – it’s almost like ‘think of a figure and halve it’. They are using bureaucracy to put blocks to prevent providers getting the support they desperately need. Some haven’t had  penny and we’re well into May.

“At the moment we have a complete postcode lottery but in the future it has to be a national process because it’s also got to reach across the NHS. To have a situation where there are thousands of pounds difference between the funding provided in different parts of Wales for exactly the same service  is totally unacceptable.

“We cannot continue working at local level with essentially 29 variations on a theme with council and health boards adopting different approaches to social care.

“As a matter of real urgency, we need a strategic plan for Wales in which health and social care policy is properly integrated.

“Without an urgent national action plan, we’re facing the prospect of up to half the care homes in Wales closing within the next year and it would also have dire consequences for the NHS which is underpinned by social care.

“The smaller homes are particularly  vulnerable and that vulnerability is down to years of neglect and chronic under-funding.

“They are irreplaceable community assets. The typical care home in Wales has around 30 to 40 beds and a modern care home needs upwards of 70 beds before you put a spade in the ground.

“If we see care homes in local communities closing down, the people who need care and their families will have to travel a long way to their nearest facility.

“It would turn the coronavirus catastrophe into an even worse national disaster as we risk losing these vitally important community assets that underpin our NHS.”