The care home industry is facing an 'uncertain future' according to a survey conducted as part of a Channel 5 News special programme, COVID Care Home Crisis - What Now?
The 5 News/National Care Association survey of 256 care home providers found that there were 2,404 empty beds in June from a potential 9,735. At the same time last year there were 1,281 care home beds standing empty.
This brings the overall average occupancy rate for the homes to 81% this June, down from 92% in June last year.
The National Care Association (NCA) says coronavirus has put a dent in the finances of many care homes and put yet more pressure on a sector which it says has been underfunded for years.
NCA Chairman, Nadra Ahmed said, 'We know that the impact of COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the financial viability of care services.
'Without recognising and addressing this we will be facing the prospect of failing the most vulnerable citizens in our communities as providers feel that they can no longer sustain their businesses.
'Providers have been delivering care services despite the funding challenges for over a decade at least, any resilience they had in their businesses has been eroded by this virus and many now face an uncertain future.
'The government response to calls for support was late and inadequate, they must now redeem themselves by responding to the call for urgent support to halt provider failure across the country as the sector faces rising debt and low occupancy.'
At one care home run by Croft Care Group, half of the beds are now standing empty.
James Creegan, Director of Care at the group said, 'Being brutally honest if things didn't improve then we would need to look at the future of the care home and whether it is financially viable going forward.
'Currently we have 34 people living here, it is their home and if we had to make a decision to close I know I would be pretty devastated.'
The Tregwilym Lodge Nursing and Residential Home in Rogerstone, Newport lost 21 residents to COVID-19.
Manager Karen Healey said the past few months have been extremely challenging but the home has now been COVID free for 28 days. 'We're now down to 50 residents in the home, which means we have 24 vacancies and with a loss per week of around £24,000. This is clearly hugely impacting the business,' she said.
She said changing guidance and a lack of community testing is causing her concern for the future, particularly the winter months.
Karen added, 'We're not alone, as in any other care sector where they've had a lot of deaths. I am unaware of the plans on what's going to happen if we should hit a second wave.
'There's been no engagement in respect of whether we're going to have extra staff, whether we've got enough PPE in the system, the flu jabs in respect of our staff and everyone making sure we're covered.'
The Local Government Association (LGA) says the pandemic has acted as a catalyst in exposing problems many homes have been facing for years and that social care deserves parity of esteem with the NHS.
Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said, 'The pandemic has absolutely brought it to a knife edge because we were having problems in the sector to start with. COVID-19 has just really highlighted the issues that have been within the sector all the way along.
'We want to work with the Government to ensure that going forward, adult social care gets the care and the attention that it needs.'
The 5 News special programme, Covid Care Home Crisis - What Now? will air tonight (Wednesday 5th August) at 6.30pm on Channel 5. The programme will feature care home providers from across the UK highlighting the challenges they are under, the financial viability of the sector and the emotional strain COVID-19 has placed on the social care sector as a whole.