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Blog: Ministers must act now to save social care

7 June 2023

Last month, Scottish Care – the umbrella body that represents independent social care providers in Scotland – warned that care homes were at a “critical juncture.”
I know and respect its Chief Executive Donald Macaskill. He is not a man prone to hyperbole, so when his organisation issues such a stark warning, we should all sit up and take notice.
For months, Scottish Care and COSLA have been locked in discussions on the future of the National Care Home Contract (NCHC), an agreement reviewed annually which determines how much central government contributes towards residential and nursing care fees. For years, the NCHC has failed to keep pace with rising costs and now falls far short of what is needed to deliver high-quality care and support for older people.

Currently, the NCHC contributes £855.78 a week for nursing care and £739.43 a week for residential care. It might sound substantial, but it amounts to around £5 per hour – a meagre amount considering the level of complex care and support the sector provides. Our older folk are surely worth more than that?
COSLA have proposed a 6% increase this year, but that barely scratches the surface. Our costs have soared in recent years; first with the pandemic and now with high inflation. The cost of essential supplies and services, including food and energy, has skyrocketed, placing an enormous strain on our resources. Meanwhile, the sector is also grappling with a severe shortage of skilled care workers and nurses, and crippling agency costs. In the past two years, our agency costs have soared by more than 800% to almost £1 million.
To address the issue of low wages in the social care sector, First Minister Humza Yousaf pledged to raise the minimum wage for adult social care workers to £12 an hour, up from the current rate of £10.90. It’s a pledge I support.
Indeed, at Parklands, we have already taken steps to increase wages across the board, including £12 an hour for carers and £20 an hour for nurses, along with a welcome bonus for new nurses. This has come at a significant cost to the company, and despite no additional funding from central government. But it’s a price worth paying if it means we can recruit and retain the very best care professionals.
The government has yet to set out a timeframe for achieving its £12 per hour target but, in any case, without substantial investment in the sector, it seems unlikely that many care providers will be able to deliver it.

Despite the many challenges they face, our homes continue to focus on what matters most – the care of their residents. I’m proud of the contribution our homes are making across Moray and the Highlands, with six of our nine homes rated 5 star (very good) by the independent regulator, the Care Inspectorate. They have achieved this against a backdrop of Covid-19, rising costs and staff shortages.
But something has to give. The sector is operating on empty and sooner or later, it will run out of steam.

In 30 years as a care provider, I’ve never known such a challenging time for the social care sector. Each week seems to bring news of yet another care home facing difficulties, an uncertain future, or imminent closure.
In January, we made the painful decision to close Mo Dhachaidh care home in Ullapool, the smallest in our group, because of escalating costs. Having been a carer myself, it was the most heart-wrenching decision I have ever had to make.
But Mo Dhachaidh is the tip of the iceberg. Without agreement on the NCHC, the sector's future hangs in the balance, with consequences for residents, their families and care workers – and for an already strained NHS.
Figures from Public Health Scotland show that in March, 1743 patients were unable to be discharged from hospital in Scotland, further burdening our already overstretched healthcare system. Bed blocking – already a serious challenge – will only worsen if more care homes close.
Given the urgency of the matter, we must find a way forward out of the current impasse.
The Scottish Government recently announced significant additional funding for the NHS, including new pay deals for junior doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics and porters.  
Of course, no one grudges our NHS workers a pay rise. But there cannot be a functioning NHS without a stable social care sector. It’s as simple as that.
The government must come forward with an offer that will safeguard the social care sector - just as they have done for the NHS.
I have written to Maree Todd, the social care minister to urge her to intervene. As a Highland MSP, she will be acutely aware of the important role that care homes provide, particularly in small rural communities.
Social care can only survive if the government is prepared to invest in it for the long term.
No-one doubts it will be costly. But the cost of doing nothing will be even greater.

Ron Taylor, Managing Director, Parklands Care Homes