The Government must rapidly make more funding available if it is to make good its pledge that all care homes will be able to receive visitors by Christmas, care bosses say.
Care homes spent an average of £4,000 on facilitating visits over October, a survey of providers by the National Care Forum (NCF) found.
This was before Government guidance was released on visits during England’s second national lockdown, recommending measures such as installing floor to ceiling Perspex screens, which will add to costs.
Testing visitors is also being trialled across 20 care homes, and this will put additional financial pressure on providers if rolled out more widely, which the Government hopes to do before Christmas.
The NCF surveyed 1,240 of its members, including providers of care homes and domiciliary care, which house 28,810 residents and employ 35,124 staff, in October.
In a briefing held by the NCF, care experts said the Government’s infection control fund (ICF) is already not sufficient to meet care homes’ virus-related costs.
NCF director Vic Rayner said there is a “growing gap between what that fund is intended to cover and the realities of the financial envelope within it”.
Asked how realistic it is that all care homes will be able to receive visitors before Christmas, she said: “In terms of the ICF’s ability to cover costs in relation to carrying out the testing, some of the real kind of staffing costs and the administration and indeed having the space available for it, I think that what we’re saying is that the current ICF levels are not sufficient to cover that.
“So yes… in order to make good this commitment, we will be looking to Government to provide some additional support for homes rapidly and similar confirmation of that, in order that they can get on and do the planning, and that we can move into that position where visiting is a default and visiting is available for all in a planned way that we can communicate properly to residents and their relatives and loved ones.”
Last week, the Government launched a seven-day consultation on restricting the movement of staff between care settings after this was linked to increased infection levels in staff.
Ms Rayner said this would be “really challenging to implement”.
About 9% of staff with NCF members work in multiple settings, costing providers £77 a month per employee to limit their movement, the survey found.
These include measures such as paying the full salaries of staff who are self-isolating and block booking agency workers.
This would cost the average care home, with 50 beds and 100 staff, £7,700 in addition to the £4,000 being spent to enable visiting.
This means the average care home is spending more than £11,000 a month on these measures, but only receiving between £5,500 and £6,500 from the ICF, the NCF said.
The survey also found only a third of members who ordered personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Government’s portal in October were able to get sufficient supplies.
The remaining two-thirds said they were able to get around 48% of the quantity they needed on average last month.
Free PPE ordered through the portal is intended for staff use.
It is not clear whether the Government’s pledge of free PPE over winter will be provided to care homes for visitors’ use.
If not, this is another cost care homes may have to meet.
Challenges aside, care experts said they are “gearing up for Christmas mode” and promised that staff would do their best to bring residents joy-filled festivities.
Jane Ashcroft, chief executive of Anchor Hanover care group, said: “Santa’s had his test and he’s on his way. And there’s loads of activity going on – food is always an important part – the dining experience is critical to people living in care homes. We’ve got our Christmas cake competition under way – always a very competitive process.
“And I think, although undoubtedly the visitor issue is absolutely critical… people who have loved ones living in care services can be assured that our colleagues in the front line absolutely go out of their way every year to make Christmas special and they will really focus this year.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We have provided over £1.1 billion to support adult social care providers to take key steps in improving infection prevention measures, as well as £4.6 billion funding for local authorities to address pressures on local services caused by the pandemic, including adult social care.
“We know some care homes have been taking innovative approaches to allow visits, which is reflected and encouraged in our updated guidance, and we are now trialling testing of visitors to care homes to give families more opportunities to reunite.
“We continue to work closely with the social care sector to ensure they have all they need and keep future funding arrangements under review.”