Social care leaders in Cardiff today secured vital funding to compensate care homes caused by the coronavirus pandemic after a survey laid bare the catastrophic losses facing the sector.
The Cardiff Nursing and Residential Homes Association (CNARHA), a sister organisation to Care Forum Wales, has been lobbying the council since the start of lockdown to secure a viable funding package to help care homes mitigate cash flow problems during the pandemic.
Last week it launched a snapshot survey of care homes across Cardiff to measure support for a sustainability grant to cover lost income from reduced occupancy rates as well as a temporary payment to help care homes meet spiralling costs.
Following the research, Cardiff Council has now confirmed the launch of an urgent rescue package which will see care homes receive a temporary payment of £80 extra per week, per local authority-commissioned bed, for the 11 weeks between 16 March and 31 May to support the sector against the unprecedented challenges posed by the deadly outbreak.
It will be supported by a further sustainability grant which will reimburse homes for all vacancies as a direct result of Covid-19 (both confirmed and symptomatic cases) at 100% of the standard fee up to May 31 – and vitally all vacancies up to the usual vacancy level of the home where it is unable to take new admissions due to Covid-19.
Nava Navaratnarajah, secretary of the CNARHA and author of the survey report, hailed the partnership work undertaken to secure a workable funding deal.
“There’s no doubt we’ve turned a corner. We’ve really worked hard in partnership with the council who have been genuinely interested in establishing a dialogue with us and working in collaboration with providers to understand their experiences, their good practices and their difficulties,” he said.
“We believe our survey played a powerful part in this process and because of our work we have been able to come up with a meaningful solution to a lot of the problems impacting on us all.
“Cardiff is the largest local authority in Wales in terms of population and we are pleased the City Council has been able to come up with a solution which we hope will be an example to the rest of the local authorities in Wales.
“However, there is an understanding this difficult period is not going to go away come May 31 and we will be looking for continued support, subject to available means. We would urge the local authority to review this and urge the Welsh Government consider future viability and sustainability. Covid-19 has accelerated the demise of the sector and continuing support will be absolutely necessary.”
The survey, which consulted 24 care homes in Cardiff, found seven in 10 (71%) care homes believed £80 did not by itself adequately redress the hardships brought by Covid-19.
More than half (58%) supported the CNARHA and CFW’s push for further sustainability grants for care homes whose occupancy levels fall below the 90% threshold.
Mario Kreft MBE, chair of Care Forum Wales, has been warning for weeks the dire threat facing the sector.
He said: “We are now several weeks into lockdown and many homes are already on the brink of closure. This compensation will offer hope and immediate redress for the hardships they’ve endured during the crisis.
“I am very grateful to Nava and the CNARHA for their persistence and fortitude in securing this critical help and for Cardiff City Council for responding to the plight of the sector.
“Each and every one of our care homes is vital to our communities, helping to support and underpin the NHS. Without them, we face an even bigger disaster than the current crisis.
“Care homes have been crippled by rising costs including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which they’ve sourced at greatly-inflated prices to keep their staff and residents safe. Many ravaged by the disease have seen occupancy rates fall to unprecedented levels with some struggling at just 60 to 65 per cent.
“Like the CNARHA, I hope support will continue beyond May 31 to protect the future sustainability and viability of the sector and I urge the Welsh Government to consider a long-term vision for protecting care homes both during and after the current crisis.
“This emergency support is most welcome but it is only a short-term fix and social care will need to be funded properly in future to ensure that care homes survive in the long term.”
The CNARHA, which supports 102 care homes in Cardiff, many of which are also CFW members, is continuing to work on behalf of care homes to extend the council’s emergency funding offer to cover all registered beds, including self-funded beds, to further protect care homes from financial difficulties.
“Some of us are running on overdrafts and taking business support loans just to be able to survive. It’s a huge knock on your ability to remain a strong business,” explained Nava, who is also managing director of 34-bed Brightside Manor Care Home in Rumney, Cardiff.
“It’s like a wildfire and all you need is one spark and the whole lot will go – that’s the scenario we are in.
“Providers are spending their resources and getting into cash flow difficulties while bed numbers are going into minuses because of delays in the necessary protocols and because of fears of accepting admissions.
“The most important thing to recognise is the fact the social care sector is propping up the NHS. That’s not being bullish – we work hand in hand with the NHS and they need us as much as we need them. There are between 22,000 and 24,000 social care beds in Wales which need to be maintained. If we’re not careful, we could be left with less than 50% of them.
“People need to recognise the value of care homes in supporting the health and wellbeing of people in Wales.”