WHEN THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT decided to seek emergency powers to allow it to take over independent sector care homes it deems have “fallen short” during the Covid-19 pandemic it felt like the Scottish Government was trying to make us scapegoats for its own failures. Many owners have genuine concerns that this is an attempt to nationalise the care sector through the back door just at a time when we should all be working together and putting people before politics. It is deeply disappointing, and a real slap in the face.
I fear that this could be the start of a land grab to have local authorities take over Scottish care homes by driving the independent sector into the ground through lack of support. But what people have to realise is that if the Scottish Government wants local authorities to take over and run independent care homes there will be a massive rise in cost to the taxpayer directly resulting from this course of action.
The 15% plus of all Scottish care homes that are run by local councils are, it seems under these emergency powers, going to continue to be treated differently and experience less scrutiny – this despite them being funded at well above the amount per resident that the same local authorities are paying to independent care homes to care for thousands of their elderly clients.
We’ve been working night and day to keep staff and residents safe while begging again and again for testing from the very beginning of the pandemic, with little result until the last two weeks. We can still make a real difference as to where we end up so we must push for even more testing.
My question to the Scottish Government is – why are you not telling us what’s going on in local authority care homes? As Scotland’s most experienced care home operator I believe we need far more transparency about what has been happening in local authority run care homes. Instead, a veil of secrecy has been drawn over figures for both deaths and testing levels in what amount to over 15% of the total number of care homes in Scotland. A large number of care homes in Scotland are run by local authorities and it’s important we know what is happening in them, so why the secrecy?
The Scottish Government is rightly holding the independent care home sector to account for our performance during this crisis, but it must be on a fair and reasonable basis – and local authority care homes should be treated in exactly the same way.
The Government says it will take over care homes that are struggling, but the reason many are struggling is from lack of support – from the same Government. Westminster has given a lot of money for fighting Covid-19 to the Scottish Government under the Barnett Formula, but very little of it has come through to independent care homes. My company deals with 10 local authorities, and we have had not a penny extra to date from them since the Covid-19 crisis began.
The Scottish Government is giving more financial support to pubs, restaurants and nail bars that are closed than it is giving to independent care homes that are open 24/7 fighting on the front line in the war against Covid-19. This lack of support is a real insult to the hardworking independent care home staff who are doing such an amazing job.
In August 2018 I made FOI requests to every Scottish local authority for a detailed breakdown of their care home operations. All the answers are available on the Scottish Care website comparing funding per resident in local authority homes versus in independent homes, and the responses showed a massive difference.
The reality is that there is no level playing field when it comes to funding elderly care in Scotland - even though the majority of residents in independent homes are placed ther by local authorities. How can local councils expect independent care homes to operate when they are given far lower funding than councils spend on their own homes? Why should local authorities get away with spending lots more of taxpayers’ money running their own care homes but expect independent homes run by charities and the private sector to have lower costs?
Here are some examples of substantially higher funding per resident in local authority homes from 2018 compared to, at the time, £690 provided per resident per week in independent homes.
The independent sector is now paid £740 for nursing care per resident per week for residents placed by local authorities, up from £690 a week when my FOI request was answered in 2018.
We don’t have the current figures – we will make a new FOI request as soon as information restrictions are lifted – but it’s likely to have had a similar if not larger increase as the independent sector.
Amongst the performance figures I would like the Scottish Government to provide for local authority care homes are how many staff and residents have been tested to date, with what results, how many tragic deaths have there been, how many staff and residents with no symptoms have been tested and how many residents have recovered after a positive test. Thus far this information – which we are providing as part of the management of the pandemic response – is not known for state provision.
The local authority sector has to face the same scrutiny as that rightly being faced by independent care homes both now and going forward. There are no data protection issues as all as the figures can be given for each local authority as opposed to each individual care home.
Over 600 days ago when I made the FOI requests, I said it was time the Scottish Government and local councils were open and honest about the costs of running their own care homes in comparison to the funding they provided to the independent sector.
Now I would add it’s time they were open and honest about what has taken place in local authority homes during this Covid-19 crisis.
Have they performed better than the independent sector and, if they have, is it because they have been better and earlier supported in areas like PPE, testing and funding? The truth must out.
Robert Kilgour founded Four Seasons Health Care in Fife in Scotland in 1988, opening its first care home in Kirkcaldy in May 1989 and leaving in early 2000 when the company was operating 101 care homes with around 6,500 staff UK wide before making his final financial exit from the company in 2004. He then founded Renaissance Care in 2004 and is currently Executive Chairman of that company, one of the leading Scottish care home operators, that runs 15 homes throughout the country looking after 700 vulnerable elderly residents - 70% of whom are local authority clients – employing close to 1,100 staff.