UK care homes are “teetering on the edge” and are at risk of “catastrophic failure” according to Chai Patel, a businessman set to become the largest operator of private residential care homes in the country.
In the wake of savage spending cuts within the social care system, Mr Patel has warned that NHS services are now at breaking point, with funding gaps placing struggling centres under immense pressure to deliver the quality of care people expect when moving their elderly relatives into a care home.
In an interview with the Times, Mr Patel, chairman of HC-One, an independent provider of residential care homes, commented on the “chronic under-funding of social care services” within the health service, and admitted that the entire sector — including private care services — is on the brink of collapse.
Mr Patel’s comments come after it emerged that HC-One is set to acquire 120 homes from Bupa, a takeover deal which would make it the UK’s largest provider of private residential care accommodation. The businessman has predicted that six national chains, including HC-One, will emerge to dominate the social care landscape, easing financial pressure on the NHS and giving lower-income households greater choice and flexibility in the services available to them and their relatives.
Since the government cut funding to social care services, many small operators reliant on monetary support from local authorities have struggled to provide the quality care expected by care watchdogs, including the CQC. Others have been forced to close, with a reported 144 residential and nursing homes closing their doors in the past 12 months alone, at the loss of 2,000 vital bed spaces.
Earlier this month, it emerged that 70,000 new care home places will be needed in the next 10 years, with an ageing population requiring quality care and treatment for more complex medical conditions in later life. In the current climate, experts like Mr Patel believe that capacity issues and funding gaps mean that the government will fail to reach this target, and by a considerable margin — placing the most vulnerable people in society at risk from failing services and a lack of quality care spaces.
At present, the care home system is hugely fragmented. While there are around 22,000 care homes in the UK, only 1,000 of these are operated by the top five private companies. This means that around 220,000 elderly people rely on services which are funded by local authorities; services at risk from bankruptcy and the inability to provide reliable patient care.
Businessmen like Mr Patel believe that private care companies may provide the answer to the current care crisis, helping to ease the social care burden on the NHS while ensuring that every elderly person gets access to affordable and quality care.
He said: “Demographics are showing in the next ten years there is need for almost 70,000 beds and this is not happening. When local authorities are trying to work alongside social care providers you can see the challenge of trying to integrate these services. I think larger operators can bridge this gap.”
Are private firms the answer to the care home crisis?
As HC-One looks set to become the UK’s largest provider of independent care and residential home places, questions are being asked about the role private firms could play in solving the current funding crisis, which has plagued the social care sector for more than a decade.
Businessmen like Mr Patel believe that the social care sector needs investment from private companies if it’s to stay afloat under the mounting pressure of spending cuts and capacity shortages. Increased investment from the top five independent care providers will mean that services struggling to cope under local authority funding will be given a much-needed cash injection, while elderly people will also have a greater choice of services available to them.
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, agrees, welcoming the potential deal between HC-One and Bupa. He said: “Private providers are painted to be only concerned with profiteering from older people when, in my personal experience, this could not be further from the truth. It is the private sector that is plugging the gaps for the state.
“The real scandal in social care is the abject failure of successive governments, across all political parties, to invest properly in social care over many decades.”
While HC-One’s Bupa takeover bid is yet to be finalised, it’s hoped that the acquisition could prove a positive step towards increased investment in the crippled care sector. With the NHS in turmoil and the government promising, but so far not delivering, on its pledge to plug the care spending gap, we’re interested to see the impact increased private investment could have in solving the ongoing care crisis.
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