Scottish Care Homes in Peril: As Pay Deal Gridlock Intensifies

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Rising costs and staffing issues jeopardise contract between Scottish Care and council body Cosla, leading to concerns over care home closures in Scotland.

Care home closures in Scotland could escalate if a deal is not agreed with councils over pay and conditions, care providers have said. Scottish Care, representing private and charity providers, has declared its contract with council body Cosla, which sets care home fees, as no longer viable due to mounting costs and staffing problems. The organisation cited an inability to meet the costs associated with paying staff £12 an hour, a commitment made by the Scottish government.

Cosla countered by stating that its latest offer was already at the “limits of affordability.” The National Care Home Contract (NCHC), established approximately 15 years ago to resolve disputes between care homes and local and central government over rates, currently determines the fees through annual negotiations between Scottish Care and Cosla. The contract also sets a cap of 4% on profits.

Should the contract be terminated, Scottish Care asserted that care providers would be entitled to charge rates they deem necessary to cover their expenses. Additionally, they could refuse to accommodate local authority-funded residents or accept new residents altogether.

Tamara Beattie, an agency carer from Fife, expressed her dissatisfaction with her current private care wage of £10.90 per hour, describing it as an “insult to staff.” Speaking on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland, Beattie highlighted the financial struggles faced by many care workers, including resorting to foodbanks or loans due to insufficient wages. She emphasised the undervaluation of their profession and called for wages to be increased to £15 per hour, while acknowledging that a move towards £12 was a step in the right direction.

Scottish Care warned that financial pressures have already led to the highest number of care home closures witnessed thus far. The organisation cautioned that more closures may follow if the contract remains unresolved. Since January, two offers to renew the contract have been presented by Cosla, both of which have been rejected by care home providers. The latest offer entailed a 6% increase in fees.

Scottish Care insisted on a minimum wage of £12 per hour for care workers and the National Living Wage for other employees. It also stressed that care homes are grappling with surging energy bills and other rising costs that the offer fails to adequately cover. Meanwhile, the temporary rates under the NCHC for residential and 24/7 nursing care stand at £855 per week for a nursing home and £739 for a residential care home.

Scottish Care further contended that the contract’s outdated model does not account for the expanded role care homes now play in the community, making it impossible to sustain costs using the existing framework. Moreover, the organisation highlighted the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff following the pay increase provided to NHS care personnel. Reports have surfaced of nurses and carers leaving the social care sector in pursuit of better wages within the NHS or abroad.

In response to the crisis, Scottish Care issued a statement stressing the urgent need to safeguard Scotland’s care homes by preserving the NCHC. Failure to do so would result in the closure of numerous care homes across the country, especially in rural and remote areas, causing immense distress to hundreds of care home residents.

The Scottish government has recently allocated over £500 million to fund pay rises for NHS nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare workers. An additional £60 million from the health and social care budget is earmarked for junior doctors if they accept a new pay offer. Although the First Minister has pledged that social care workers will see their wages rise to £12 per hour, no timeline has been established, and the source of funding remains undisclosed. Skilled care staff play a crucial role in preventing hospital admissions and alleviating pressure on the NHS, yet the shortage of available personnel threatens to compromise these efforts. Concerns persist that higher NHS wages and alternative employment opportunities may entice more workers away from the social care sector. Scottish Care and other organisations warn that without improved pay and conditions, retaining staff will be impossible, ultimately leading to a collapse of the system.

Councillor Paul Kelly, Cosla’s health and social care spokesperson, defended the latest offer for the NCHC, citing severe financial pressures and inflation as determining factors. He emphasised that the offer represents the “best offer we can make and is at the limits of affordability.” Kelly acknowledged Scottish Care’s engagement with the Scottish government concerning the financial challenges faced by the sector and reaffirmed that the full offer remains on the table. He further noted that councils have been diligent in ensuring timely payments to care home providers, including enabling adult social care workers to receive the Real Living Wage.

Social Care Minister Maree Todd expressed concern over the potential closure of care homes and emphasised the need to address the underlying market failure. Although the Scottish government is not directly involved in the NCHC negotiations, Todd underscored the shared interest in finding a solution, stating that the government is eager to collaborate with both parties. She emphasised that stabilising the market would depend on improving the pay and conditions of social care workers.

Overall, the ongoing stalemate between Scottish Care and Cosla threatens the stability of Scotland’s care home sector, raising concerns about the well-being of vulnerable residents and the long-term viability of the system. Urgent action is required to resolve the pay and conditions dispute to prevent further care home closures and the consequent strain on the social care infrastructure.

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