As the demand for care home availability increases alongside the ageing population and the high prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, the ongoing COVID-19 circumstances have led to reduced care home capacity for this need. The total number of available care homes has reduced across the nation, resulting in an absence of care for vulnerable people, and increased pressure on carers and hospitals.
The Total Number of Care Homes Drops
The total number of care homes have dropped significantly since 2015, falling from 16,983 facilities to 15,285 according to the House of Commons Library analysis, dropping by 10% in six years. With an increasing absence of these amenities, and lack of capacity, new patients are increasingly susceptible to being rejected. This means there will be added vulnerability for these people who may not receive the appropriate care, potentially escalating their health issues.
The closure of care homes and their shrunken capacity has led to immense pressure on hospitals to discharge patients and free up space. Health professionals advise that patient outcomes deteriorate when they are medically fit to be discharged but can’t leave hospital.
Comparably, it is becoming more difficult to find room for incoming patients, including Accident and Emergency cases. This demonstrates that not only is there no guaranteed care outside the hospital, but that people who require external care must remain in hospitals, obstructing capacity for other patients.
This isn’t just difficult for hospitals, but primary care, community care, and social care. Unpaid carers are under enormous pressure, unable to receive respite or find places for their patient to receive the appropriate care.
The ongoing pandemic has had implications for care homes nationwide across the past few years. Strict isolation guidelines in place and increasing patient demand has resulted in one third of new residents being turned away across the nation. For instance, MHA endured closure of 62 of its 89 homes to new admissions because of Department of Health and Social Care guidelines around outbreaks. In turn, patients are relying on carers and hospitals to receive appropriate care, potentially leading to diminished care quality.
Care homes must be quarantined for 28 days if two people test positive for the virus. This has resulted in 70% of homes not accepting patients due to COVID-19 outbreaks and a lack of staff. More than 90 care home operators have declared ‘red alerts’ over shortages, in turn compromising on the quality of care. At Four Seasons Healthcare, one of the largest private operators, 40% of their homes had recorded two or more cases at the peak of the pandemic.
This has not only had repercussions for staff, but also the patients and families involved. Once the care home must isolate, often involving only two cases of COVID-19, each resident can have essential care visits, but no broader friends or family may visit for up to four weeks. Conversely, the rest of the population have been encouraged to socialise. As a result, care bodies are calling on ministers to reduce the quarantine period, claiming it is ‘out of step’ with the rest of the population. Due to these guidelines, patients may feel isolated and lonely, compromising their overall wellbeing.
Evidently, the pandemic has built on an ongoing absence of care home numbers nationwide, with care homes turning more care receivers away than ever. Ultimately, this has had knock-on effects in terms of staff shortages, hospital, and carer pressures, the quality of care, and overall patient wellbeing.
Written by Georgie Shirlaw, Bid Writer