Coronavirus crisis 'could force half of Welsh care homes to close'

A leading social care expert has warned that half of Wales' care homes could be forced to close amid the coronavirus crisis - unless urgent action is taken.

Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, said many homes are already having to take out loans and consider imminent closure due to a “perfect storm” of spiralling costs and falling income.

Mr Kreft says the sector was already fragile before the pandemic began and many providers could now be put out of business.

"The problem we are facing is that our residents are uniquely vulnerable because the majority of them are elderly and all of them have underlying health problems," he explained.

Mr Kreft said that unless urgent support is forthcoming, the industry will see care home closures "week-on-week" over the summer months.

He added: "We've never, ever encountered anything quite like this in the history of the care sector in Wales and the UK."

Care homes in Wales are experiencing rising costs at a time when their income is falling. Credit: PA

Wales has around 650 care homes for over-65s, which provide 20,000 beds.

Mr Kreft fears that mass closures would lead to the NHS being “completely overwhelmed by a tsunami of need."

He said: "We have [care homes] who are increasing their staffing costs. They're increasing other costs, like buying their own personal protective equipment.

"And, of course, we're seeing falling occupancy as people pass away, and as other homes choose not to admit people, because they're terrified that it's going to introduce the virus into those homes and affect the residents they have.

“A typical care home needs to have 90 per cent occupancy to be viable, and anything below 85 per cent is not sustainable - but some homes are down 25 to 30 per cent occupancy.

"We have got people that are seriously talking to their banks, seriously talking within their organisation, about whether the best thing and the safest thing for everybody is simply to close the doors."

Chair of Care Forum Wales Mario Kreft says a £40m aid package is not enough to save the sector. Credit: Care Forum Wales

Among those under severe pressure is Glyn Williams, who runs the 28-bed Gwyddfor Residential Care Home in the village of Bodedern on Anglesey.

Mr Williams has launched an online appeal to raise £33,000 towards his costs, fearing he will have to shut within the month.

The simple truth is, we are in dire straits as things stand. The welfare of our residents is vitally important - they are like our extended family. But we just can’t survive as we are so underfunded.

Glyn Williams, care home manager

Mr Kreft has previously voiced concerns that £40 million in emergency funding promised by the Welsh Government for adult social care services is not enough.

Earlier this month, he said that although the financial aid was "a step in the right direction", a lot more would be needed to save the "chronically underfunded" sector.

"The idea that this is anything more than a first instalment would be met with disbelief by a sector that’s on its knees as a result of 24 years of neglect," he said at the time.

Health minister Vaughan Gething responded by saying the amount would be reviewed and more money made available if needed.

In a press conference today, First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government is in talks with local authorities about how that £40m could best be used.

He told journalists: "It was initially intended to help care homes with rising costs of food and other supplies; rising costs of agency staff to cover people who were ill, and so on.

"We're talking with local authorities about whether they could use some of that money to help care homes where occupancy levels have fallen."

See Mark Drakeford's comments on care homes below: