Exclusive: Care homes facing closure crisis as empty beds double amid Covid pandemic

Care homes across the UK are on the brink of closure due to a dramatic rise in empty beds during the Covid pandemic, ITV News can reveal.Figures we’ve obtained from 61 councils in England, Scotland and Wales show that across the country the number of vacancies has almost doubled in a year, rising by 88%.With responsibility for care devolved to local authorities, our data shows empty beds increasing across almost every council area, but homes in some parts of the country have suffered particularly acutely.In Liverpool, vacancies - or ‘voids’ as care homes refer to them - were up 395% in August compared with the same time last year. In East Cheshire they had risen by 249% and in Derbyshire by 169%.

The picture was similar across each of the three home nations that provided us with data. In Wales, vacancies were up 153% in Caerphilly, 123% in Neath Port Talbot and 121% in Merthyr.In Scotland, Dundee’s voids have shot up by 318% in a year, while the rise in South Lanarkshire is 282% and 122% in Glasgow.ITV News has spoken to multiple care companies representing hundreds of homes across the country, with providers citing two main causes for the crisis.

Firstly, care homes have suffered tens of thousands of deaths in 2020 above what they would normally expect in an average year as Covid-19 swept through the sector, leaving many beds vacant. And secondly, fears around a resurgence of the virus mean families are reluctant to fill those beds with new residents.

In Liverpool, two care homes run by Shaw Healthcare in Speke and Everton are both at risk of closure after the council cited Covid-19 as a major financial drain, leaving 83 residents facing the prospect of having to move home in the middle of a pandemic.Among the residents is 99-year-old Dolly Anderson who has advanced dementia and lives at Brushwood home in Speke. Her granddaughter Lydia Quick is campaigning to keep her home open.

'It's life and death basically whether she stays in that home'

Both the Liverpool homes had been due to close as early as this month, but will now stay open until March as one last effort is made to find a new operator.

Their fate beyond then remains uncertain.

Councillor Paul Brant told us about what the problem is.

'I will be surprised if we don't see homes closing across the country'

ITV News has spoken to care homes in every corner of the UK facing a similar prospect.

Karen Healey, who manages Tregwilym Lodge in Newport where 21 residents died of Covid, says families saw the pandemic "tear the heart and soul of the care sector".

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has consistently made clear it will provide the necessary funding across health and care services to recognise the additional costs of responding to Covid-19, to support remobilisation of services, and to ensure that patient safety remains the top priority at all times.

“Following a further funding announcement on 29 September by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, we have now allocated a total of £150 million for social care as part of our additional Covid funding this year to help the sector deal with the financial implications of the pandemic, and we have committed to review social care funding again in November.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “At the start of the pandemic, we made an extra £40 million available to enable local authorities to assist adult care providers with the additional costs of Covid-19. Since then we have further allocated £22.7 million to cover continued costs incurred.

“In addition, we recently announced an additional £264 million for local authorities for the remainder of 2020-2021 for Covid-19 related costs, including further funding of around £50 million for adult social care services. This will enable local authorities to continue to assist care providers during the coming winter and beyond.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenges facing the social care sector and we are doing everything we can to support it. “Funding for adult and children’s social care has increased by £1.5 billion this year and we have committed to providing extra funding every year for more social care staff and better infrastructure, technology and facilities. “As part of our pandemic response we have given £3.7 billion to councils in England so they can address pressures on local services caused by the pandemic, including in adult social care. This is on top of a £1.1 billion Infection Control Fund and a free PPE supply for care homes and domiciliary care until the end of March.”

An empty care home room in Wrexham. Credit: ITV News

The National Care Association, responding to our findings, said: "The statistics are alarming and provide a stark warning as we anticipate a second wave. Social Care provision has been fragile and ignored for too long.

"The fact that so many providers face the real prospect of Financial failure highlights the fact that social care provision has been overlooked and without a robust and sustainable solution the impact on the NHS will be devastating because once the beds are lost it will leave our vulnerable citizens without choices when they need them most."

Labour’s shadow care minister Liz Kendall added: “The Government’s terrible handling of the coronavirus crisis in care homes has stretched an already fragile system to breaking point.

"Labour warned Ministers about these problems back in April, yet no steps have been taken to prevent care home providers failing, with all the terrible consequences for care home residents and their families. 

“The Prime Minister promised to fix the crisis in social care over a year ago, and yet plans for long-term Care reform are nowhere to be seen. The Government must bring forward these reform as a matter of urgency, and ensure older and disabled people are given the security they desperately need.”