UK nursing home capacity shrank in 2022 for the first time in three years, data shared exclusively with Sky News has revealed.
Despite the bed blocking crisis faced by the NHS and the pressing need to release thousands of hospital patients for social care, the number of beds in the sector has fallen by 230 in the last 12 months.
It is the first year-on-year drop in the number of beds since 2019.
Figures compiled by CSI Market Intelligence also showed that 247 nursing 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, chairman of Care Forum Wales, which represents more than 450 nursing and care homes, told Sky News.
“What we’re seeing is massive underfunding, and that’s leading to closures. There will certainly be more closures because the pressure has become unbearable.”
Some caregivers have seen fuel bills skyrocket as much as 1000% this winteras well as having to deal with rising food inflation and a dwindling workforce.
Staffing shortages in the industry rose 52% last year to 165,000 jobs, according to Skills for Care.
Bristol-based AbleCare, which runs six care homes in the southwest, has been struggling to fill a permanent position for six months.
“Recruiting becomes a full-time job in itself,” manager Josh Hawker told Sky News.
“Suddenly we are losing employees to Amazon, the NHS is big, supermarkets.
“Because for the same salary they could earn here, there is much, much less responsibility and stress.
“So we’re losing them from the industry, which has never happened before.”
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AbleCare pays its staff the voluntary real wage of £10.90 an hour, but Hawker said new 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 deliberately start keeping empty beds, not because they don’t want to sell them, but because they don’t have the staff to look after people.”
The series of closures has seen thousands of vulnerable nursing home residents and their families forced to find new accommodation, often with little or no notice.
It was a prospect Jenny Creed, 76, faced earlier this month after the home her husband was staying in told residents it would close in four weeks.
Jim, 80, moved to Gwastad Hall in Cefn-y-Bedd, near Wrexham, in October after suffering a series of strokes.
“I was devastated, totally shocked,” Creed told Sky News.
“I was worried, because there is such a shortage of nursing beds, that he would end up too far from where I live, and that it would be impossible to visit him every day.”
Fortunately, Mrs. Creed managed to find her husband a place at nearby Highfield House nursing home, but she described the move as “distressing” for him as he has limited speech and mobility and requires around-the-clock care.
She added: “It was difficult. He was very anxious, very quiet, very subdued.
“He misses the gentleman beside him. They watched all the football games together. Now he prefers to sit in his room.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care 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 cope with workforce pressures. and support a person-centered health and care system that works closer together.
“Local authorities are in the best position to understand and plan for the care needs of their populations and to develop and build local market capacity.”