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'Care deserts' mean older people aren’t getting the care they need

Older lady in a care home

The social care system is failing older people in England



A new study commissioned by Age UK confirms that 1 in 7 older people in England aren't receiving the care they need.

It says that many parts of the country have become 'care deserts', which means that older people can’t access residential or home care, regardless of whether they can pay for it or not. This means that 1.4 million older people are missing out on the right level of care.

How has this happened?

Local councils have been having their budgets squeezed for years, and they can no longer afford adequate care for their residents. Because of this, private care providers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep trading on the basis of council-funded places alone.

3 million - the number of hours of care lost over the past 3 years
3 million - the number of hours of care lost over the past 3 years

But added to this, the number of vacancies for registered social care nurses has tripled between 2012/13 and 2017/18. There are too many care jobs and not enough people to fill them. In real terms, there are 8000 fewer nurses now than in 2012.

This lack of nurses means vast sections of the country are suffering from a shortage of care providers, and many older people have to travel a long way to get the care they need.

Although there's been a slight national rise in the total number of beds over the past 5 years, some local areas, like Hull, have lost more than a third of their nursing home beds in the past 3 years.

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How are different parts of the country affected?

The study, carried out by Incisive, an independent health consultancy, looked into some contrasting areas of the country, so we could understand more about local factors and how they help shape the market for care.

The situation across the country was wildly different, but each place showed a cause for concern, whether that was a chronic lack of care now or the risk of losing care workers following Brexit.

What we think

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK says: "This new report shows how chaotic and broken the market for care has become after years of underfunding and the absence of determined Government action to ensure the right workforce is in place.

"The end result is laid bare by the authors – the emergence of care deserts and a deeply worrying lack of nursing home places, in particular, leaving some of our most vulnerable older people high and dry. It would be hard to exaggerate how serious the implications of this report are for older people, or indeed for the NHS, which is the place of last resort if no nursing home places are to be had."

The situation differs markedly from place to place, but in the end the fragile nature of care in our country is a national problem and it needs a national solution.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK

"The report shows what an impossible position local authorities are in; they are supposed to 'manage' their local care market, but they lack the levers to do so and the big drivers of the problems in the care industry are way beyond their control.

"Meanwhile, they are desperately short of money to purchase care home places for older people in need, so more and more of the financial burden is being shifted onto those older people who fund their own care, who are paying through the nose to keep the system afloat. This is deeply unfair.

"Incisive Health's report demonstrates that the situation differs markedly from place to place but in the end the fragile nature of care in our country is a national problem and it needs a national solution. If the awful situation set out in this report doesn’t persuade our Government to finally get a grip and take action I don't know what will."

Download the full report

Care deserts: the impact of a dysfunctional market in adult social care provision

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Last updated: Nov 24 2023

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