Headlines: August 26th, 2005

The number of places available in care homes for the elderly and for people with disabilities fell by 8,700 in the year to April, according to a report out today. The “Care of Elderly People Market Report 2005”, published by Laing & Buisson, shows the number had reached 476,200 places across the private, voluntary and public sectors, putting capacity across all sectors at some 100,000 places lower than the peak in 1996.At the same time levels of demand also fell by 6,700 residents as local councils continued to rein back on placements, the report says. That meant occupancy rates in independent care homes reached almost 92 per cent. But the report says care home demand may be set to rise, contrary to Government opinion.

Of the places lost during the year 3,800 went from the independent sector following losses of 6,600 in the previous year and of 9,500 twelve months earlier. Up to April this year a further 3,500 places were lost in local authority run residential homes and an estimated 1,400 continuing care homes were cut in NHS hospitals.

The report goes on to show that 582 independent sector care homes were closed during the year while an estimated 113 new ones were registered. New registrations are expected to increase again in the coming year, but will still probably lag behind closures.

It also identifies regional variations with the biggest capacity loss being in Wales, where places are down by 6.6 per cent. By contrast capacity grew in the under-bedded’ regions of East Anglia and the Home Counties as well as in the traditionally “over-bedded” north.

The report’s author, William Laing said that while the year had seen further erosion of care home capacity and a small increase in average occupancy levels the fact that demand had also been eroded, though at a slower rate, continued to encourage the Government in its view that the traditional care home sector was in decline and would increasingly be replaced by alternatives such as home care and extra care.

“Our view, however, is that care home demand may now be on the point of rising once again. One of the reasons why local authorities have been able to keep a lid on placement levels in recent years is the reversal of demographic pressures during 2001-2004 as the depleted cohort of people born during the First World War entered advanced old age. But that period is now over,” he said.

He added that some of the coming expansion in demand would be satisfied by alternatives such as domiciliary care and extra care but the report believes it is imperative that commissioners of care services focus on the need to re-build traditional care home capacity as well.