Care homes will be forced to close by Sheffield Council’s ‘insane’ underpayment, warn providers

Care bosses are fighting an “insane” underpayment by Sheffield Council which they say will force a raft of service closures across the city.

Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 12:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 3:31 pm

Council leaders are set to approve around a three percent increase in the fee rates, what the council pays operators for running services, for residential and nursing homes today.

The figure is supposed to align with inflation to mitigate the risk of market failure but providers say what the council is offering is only a fraction of what they need to survive.

It comes as the sector struggles with an increasingly tougher crisis with difficulties recruiting and retaining a workforce, increased demand and staff burnout worsened by the pandemic.

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Care bosses are fighting an “insane” underpayment by Sheffield Council which they say will force a raft of services closures across the city.

Operators said they have been mistreated by the council for years and this latest decision has left them “absolutely flabbergasted” after months of meetings and submitting evidence showing that at least a 20 percent increase was needed.

A care home provider running multiple centres in the city, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions, said they speak for the whole of Sheffield Care Association when they say they are shocked considering the council knows how precarious the sector is.

They said: “It’s absolutely crazy, it’s unbelievable what they are doing. There is no other way to describe it than it’s insane.

Sheffield Council has been underpaying us for 10 years. We are massively underfunded compared to other cities, Sheffield is £100 a week less than its surrounding boroughs and they have done it to us again.

Sheffield Council leaders are set to approve the residential and nursing home fees in a meeting today.

“When you take into account the minimum wage uplift and the increase in everything else: gas, electric, insurance, food we are all going to be taking not one step but ten steps back.

“The real cost of this is people are going to lose their jobs, people are going to lose their homes – it’s extremely serious. It’s heartbreaking after all the hard work, all the effort we have all put in for the last two years through Covid, all the meetings we have had with the commissioners and the directors of service. We really thought this year they would listen to us because they have had the evidence to prove that we need a bigger increase.”

Providers said they were only told by the council on Friday and had until 9 am on Monday to make any comments for consideration by decision makers.

A representative from the Care Association said it worked hard all weekend last year to send strong representations within the tight deadline but the council ‘lost’ these despite them being sent to several officers and councillors.

Councillor George Lindars-Hammond, executive member for health and social care, in Sheffield Town Hall council chamber.

“It’s disgraceful how they treat us. We have been waiting and waiting and waiting,” they said.

They added: “We have been pushing the council to do something called a true cost of care exercise, we have been asking them year on year but they won’t do it because they know when they do it will come back and the fees will be at least 20 percent. They are just delaying it all the time and this is yet another delay.

“We know the city has got to balance its budget, I can understand that, but social care – especially elderly adult care – has been underfunded for 10 years in Sheffield. It desperately needs fixing and they are just ignoring it again. This year we will see a raft of closures.”

Concerns about the accuracy of the report

Care providers also raised concern about how the council’s report was written, pointing out that the date ‘July 2016’ was in the footer of the first page – leading them to suspect parts of the report were cut and pasted from six years ago.

The report states that the council consulted with local care operators but they said this was “just a box ticking exercise” and they felt they had not been listened to.

Given the increased risk of closures, care bosses said the council could now be breaching the Care Act which states local authorities have a legal responsibility to maintain a stable market.

But in the report, the council said these increases “meet the council’s legal responsibilities by being sufficient to support assessed care needs and to provide residents with the level of care services that they could reasonably expect to receive”.

Sheffield Council budget pressures

Councillor George Lindars-Hammond, executive member for health and social care, said: “We understand the pressures faced by care home providers. Council budgets are under pressure too so this is a very difficult situation all round.

“We will all need to respond to changes in demand due to planned efforts to keep people well in their own homes for longer and we are working together to adapt to the future needs of the care market.

“We are working with providers to help reshape their provision where possible so that the market meets the needs of those who need support now and those who need it in the future.”

Cuts in home care

Last month, the council said all of its services including adult social care, children’s homes, leisure and libraries were being reviewed as it is struggling with extreme budget pressures.

During these discussions, the council said it will need to have “difficult and horrible” conversations with people about cutting expensive home care packages costing up to £4,000 per week and that people relying on them can go into care homes instead.

Ryan Keyworth, director of finance, said: “You’re potentially saying to somebody that that really expensive home care package you’ve got would now be better provided in a care home.

“That’s a horrible conversation to have to have with somebody but it’s quite possible to spend £3,000 or £4,000 a week on somebody’s home care package to provide what is fundamentally a care home in their house.”

Going forward, care operators said they are preparing to fight for a better increase, saying “enough is enough”.