Thousands of families face the trauma of seeing elderly loved ones kicked out of care homes amid a “tsunami” of providers closing.
The number of private care givers handing back local authority contracts has more than tripled in 22 months, research by the Mirror has revealed.
And NHS England data showed that 56% of hospital patients fit for discharge cannot leave because there is no social care in place for them.
On an average day, 12,168 patients remained in hospital who no longer met the criteria to be there.
And the problem was mainly down to elderly patients being unable to get care in their own home or a residential place.
The Mirror’s research shows the shocking depth of the social care crisis. In 2019, there were 731 contracts for residential care and care in the community handed back, while in just 10 months last year the figure was 1,939.
The returned care contracts last year left 4,720 vulnerable adults suffering distressing upheaval. Some families were given just 42 hours to find a new home.
The figures, revealed after Freedom of Information requests from the Mirror, suggest 45 care contracts are being handed back by providers each week.
And we reveal the human cost of care home turmoil, with one daughter telling how she found her mother, who had advanced dementia, sitting in the middle of her cold and dark new room, with her head in her hands crying.
And a husband in Liverpool told us how he was “terrified” his wife, who has Alzheimer’s, would be moved too far away for him to carry on his daily visits. Care home bosses blame the closures on staff shortages, Covid, and a lack of funding from local authorities.
The Care Quality Commission said staff vacancies in care homes were up from 6% in April 2021 to 11.5% in December.
Kate Terroni, of the CQC, said: “Staffing pressures are being felt across all health and care settings. More stability in social care is the key that will unlock improved access and quality for the people who use it – and it will also help ease pressure on the NHS, enabling more people to leave hospital in a timely way when they are medically fit to do so.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is under intense pressure from the unions to step in.
UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea said: “Ministers must hear the clanging alarm bells and invest in social care.
“These figures paint a horrifying picture of a broken system. Every failed contract means sub-standard care for elderly, disabled and vulnerable people, and workers exploited with poverty wages and little or no sick pay. This has to stop.”
Morgan Vine, of Independent Age, said: “We have been receiving a higher number of calls to our helpline from people in this situation. Increased care home closures illustrate just how much some care providers are struggling.”
Justin Russi, who runs care homes in County Durham and Teesside, said: “I got served at the checkout in the local supermarket by someone who used to be my senior carer. She was getting more money, doing less work, pushing someone’s shopping along a conveyor belt.
“£9.50 does not cut the mustard when you can go down to the local supermarket and get £11 an hour. It’s a joke.”
Nicola Richards, from Palms Row Health Care in Sheffield, had to close one of her three homes and warned of a “tsunami” of other closures to come across the UK. She said: “It’s heartbreaking to close a home. Care homes across the country have been in financial difficulty for a long time due to the current care system and a lack of government support.”
Our research showed one area hit hard was Southend in Essex, where there were no care home closures at all in 2019, then four in 2020 and six in the first 10 months of 2021. As of this month, just 88 remain open in the town.
Essex County Council said: “Significant pressures are being experienced nationwide. Essex is no exception.”
From the 150 replies we received to our FoI requests, London councils were among those least likely to report having contracts handed back, with around half in the capital having none since 2019.
But the closures are having an impact on the NHS, data showing hospital bed occupancy at 94% and 11 trusts reporting occupancy above 98% last week.
To operate safely, occupancy should be below 85% to cope with spikes. Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust declared a critical incident yesterday due to overwhelming demand.
Miriam Deakin, of NHS Providers, said: “Delayed discharges continue to be an issue, highlighting pressures across the health and care system.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Care staff are working incredibly hard and we are doing everything we can to support them – including through a £462.5 million recruitment fund and expanding the Health and Care Visa scheme to bolster the workforce.
“Over the course of the pandemic, we have made available more than £2.9 billion in specific funding for adult social care.
“More than 55 million PCR and 166 million LFD kits have been delivered to care homes and we have invested a further £478 million to support safe and timely hospital discharges to get patients into the best place for their care and support to continue.”