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YOUR VIEWS: ‘Urgent action’ needed to protect Highland care sector

By Gregor White

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Further support is needed to secure the future of the care sector.
Further support is needed to secure the future of the care sector.

Urgent action needed to secure care sector

Your article on the cost of private care for the elderly (Inverness Courier, July 2) highlights a crisis in social care funding that demands urgent political action.

The care sector has endured unprecedented cost challenges in recent years, including the impact of Covid, inflation at a 40 year high and interest rates at their highest since 2008.

Inflation may have fallen, but the cost of food – one of our biggest expenses – remains stubbornly high. Meanwhile, our wage bill has soared, up 14 per cent last year in Highland alone, following our decision to unilaterally increase the starting rate for carers to £12 in April 2023 – a full year before the Scottish Government delivered a similar pay rise.

I am proud that we took the lead on wages, but I despair at the lack of support from the Scottish Government, which has consistently failed to pay its fair share of the cost of delivering care. This year’s settlement delivered yet another insult to our sector, with care providers expected to deliver complex 24/7 nursing care and support for £948.59 a week – the equivalent of £5.64 per resident per hour. By underfunding beds paid for by the public sector, the Scottish Government has shifted the burden onto those who pay for their care. It simply isn’t fair.

Faced with ever-increasing costs and meagre government support, many care providers now face a stark choice: increase fees to stay afloat or risk closure.

This isn’t hyperbole. Scottish Care has long warned that without additional funding, the sector is in danger of collapse. In the past two years, the Highland region has lost almost 200 beds, mostly in smaller, rural areas.

In neighbouring Moray and Aberdeenshire, the picture is similarly bleak, although Parklands was able to safeguard 130 beds in the north-east after acquiring at risk homes in Keith, Cullen and Huntly, which is some consolation. It remains a matter of profound personal regret that we were not able to save Mo Dhachaidh in Ullapool from closure after acquiring it in 2022, right in the midst of an economic storm. The cost of operating such a small home proved insurmountable.

Sadly, it will not be the last rural Highland home to close. The stark reality is that care homes of that size just can’t survive in the current economic climate. Worryingly, the number of care homes across Scotland has fallen by 19 per cent in the last decade.

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Each care home closure puts more pressure on our already over-stretched NHS. Around 10 per cent of beds in NHS wards are occupied by patients who should have been discharged. The vast majority are over 65, many waiting for a care home place or in-house care package to become available.

According to Scottish Care, the average cost of a week-long stay in an acute NHS hospital is around £2900, more than three times what the state pays for a care home placement. It doesn’t need to be this way. Social care providers are better placed to support these patients at significantly less cost to the taxpayer than the NHS. However, to do so we need a sustainable funding model, one that reflects the actual cost of delivering care.

I’m immensely proud of our homes and of the high-quality, award-winning care they provide, and of the investment we have made over the past 30 years in communities like Fortrose and Muir of Ord. Unlike many independent care providers operating in the Highlands, Parklands is a company rooted in the north. We are committed to reinvesting our resources back into the region to fund new care capacity, improve the condition of our existing homes, provide fair wages to our employees and create new career opportunities. Our new care home in Inverness, opening next year, will provide 58 additional beds and create over 120 jobs in the area.

Following the General Election, I hope that our new MPs will reflect on the challenges facing social care and put pressure on governments at Westminster and at Holyrood to do more to support our older people. They surely deserve better.

Ron Taylor

Managing director

Parklands Care Homes

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