Council leaders have warned the choice of care homes is likely to get worse as a new study reveals the quality of homes in one in five local authority areas dropped last year.
A new analysis by the older people’s charity Independent Age has found the proportion of care homes rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ by the Care Quality Commission increased in one in five council areas in 2017.
The charity warned the study reveals a ‘dramatic variation’ in the quality of care homes at a regional and local authority level across England — a variation driven in large part by low levels of funding from local authorities.
The North West has been hit the hardest. It contains five of the eight worst performing English local authorities on care home quality, with more than one in four care homes (28.2%) across the region performing poorly.
Yorkshire and The Humber (26.1%) and the West Midlands (21.3%) are also among the worst performing regions of England for care home quality.
London, with only 17.4% of care homes performing poorly, the East of England (17.4%) and the East Midlands (18.2%) are the best performing regions, according to Independent Age.
The charity believes the drivers for care home quality variation include factors such as low levels of funding by local authorities, low pay and difficulty recruiting staff, and the lack of a good support mechanism for improving care homes that are struggling.
‘Older people and their families are still facing an unenviable choice between poor care homes in some parts of the country,’ said Janet Morrison, chief executive of Independent Age.
‘While it is encouraging that there has been an overall improvement in quality, this masks persistent variation in the quality of care homes within each region of the country.
‘The market simply does not seem to be able to drive the rapid improvement needed in many areas.
‘While the Government seems happy to deflect all decisions about social care into the vague promise of a green paper, local authorities are having to make difficult decisions now about care in their area.’
Commenting on the findings, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘Councils have been doing all they can to protect services that care for older and disabled people and will continue to do so.
‘But the scale of the pressures facing the sector, combined with the scale of underfunding the sector is grappling with, inevitably impacts on the quality of care provided and its availability.
‘This is symptomatic of an increasingly fragile provider market, in which providers are either pulling out of contracts or going out of business.
‘It is also leading to growing unmet need, further strain on informal carers, continued pressure on an already overstretched care workforce, and a decrease in social care’s ability to help mitigate demand pressures on the NHS.
‘The stark reality is that the quality and choice of care homes will likely get worse, unless immediate action is taken to tackle social care underfunding and implement long-term reform of the sector.’