Care home capacity in UK shrinks for first time in three years

Care home capacity in the UK shrank in 2022 for the first time in three years, data shared exclusively with Sky News has revealed.

Despite the bed-blocking crisis facing the NHS and the pressing need to discharge thousands of hospital patients into social care, the number of beds in the sector fell by 230 over the last 12 months.

It is the first year-on-year decrease in bed numbers since 2019.

Figures compiled by CSI Market Intelligence also showed that 247 care homes closed their doors last year, while 123 new businesses opened. It was the lowest number of new entrants to the market since 2015.

"The sector is in complete crisis," Mario Kreft, chair of Care Forum Wales, which represents more than 450 care and nursing homes, told Sky News.

"What we're seeing is massive underfunding, and that is leading to closures. There is bound to be more closures because the pressure has become unbearable."

Some care providers saw fuel bills soar by as much as 1000% this winter, while also having to deal with spiralling food inflation and a shrinking workforce.

Staff shortages in the sector increased by 52% last year to 165,000 vacancies, according to Skills for Care.

Bristol-based AbleCare, which runs six care homes in the south west, has struggled to fill a permanent position for six months.

"Recruitment becomes like a full-time job in itself," manager Josh Hawker told Sky News.

"We're suddenly losing staff to Amazon, the NHS is a big one, supermarkets.

"Because for the same wages as they could earn here, there is much, much less responsibility and stress.

"So we're losing them out of the sector, which has never happened before."

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AbleCare pays its staff the voluntary real living wage of £10.90 per hour, but Mr Hawker said newer entrants to the market "just don't have that option as the numbers don't add up".

He added: "What we're seeing some of our competitors do is start to deliberately keep empty beds, not because they don't want to sell them but because they haven't got the staff to look after the people."

The raft of closures has seen thousands of vulnerable care home residents and their families forced to find new accommodation, often with little to no notice.

It was a prospect Jenny Creed, 76, faced earlier this month after the home her husband was in told residents it would be closing in four weeks.

Eighty-year-old Jim had moved into Gwastad Hall in Cefn-y-Bedd, near Wrexham, in October after suffering a series of strokes.

"I was devastated, just totally shocked," Ms Creed told Sky News.

"I was concerned, because there is such a shortage of nursing beds, that he would end up a long way from where I live, and that it would be impossible to visit everyday."

Fortunately Ms Creed was able to find a place for her husband at the nearby Highfield House care home but she described the relocation as "distressing" for him, as he has limited speech and mobility and requires round-the-clock care.

She added: "It was difficult. He was very anxious, very quiet, really quite subdued.

"He misses the gentleman he sat next to. They watched all the football matches together. Now he prefers to sit in his room."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are investing up to £7.5 billion in social care over the next two years - the biggest funding increase in history - which will help address workforce pressures and support a person-focused health and care system that works closer together.

"Local authorities are best placed to understand and plan for the care needs of their populations, and to develop and build local market capacity."