IT IS SIMPLY not right that you can be paid more for stacking supermarket shelves than for looking after our vulnerable elderly. So I fully welcome and support the Scottish Government's introduction of the Scottish Carers Living Wage, which is now £8.45 an hour for all care staff over 18, and I’m hopeful that its introduction will help care homes improve both staff recruitment and staff retention, helping reduce the requirement for expensive agency staff. But it’s only fair that our main customer, the Scottish Government, properly funds the welcome and progressive move that they have made.
Taking my own company as an example, about three-quarters of our residents are local authority-funded and almost 65 per cent of our fee income goes on staff costs.
The Herald’s admirable Grey Matters campaign has called for a renewed effort to ensure public services meet the needs of elderly people, and states that we must improve care as we face an increase of a third in the elderly population in the next 25 years.
Consultants JLL says 10,800 care home beds will be required by 2026, yet 1,100 beds were lost in Scotland last year – with no likelihood of these being replaced over this year and next.
The independent sector provides good quality care and very good value for taxpayers’ money. However, after several tough years, there is simply no fat left in the sector to absorb the significant increases in costs involved in these increases in pay, even if they are welcomed and deserved.
I’m seriously worried that we are very close to reaching a tipping point for the care home sector in Scotland. If funding is not quickly improved, I believe many more care homes will close in Scotland and that fewer new homes will be built. This will worsen the already growing net annual loss of beds in Scotland – and cause increased NHS bed blocking, higher NHS costs and more cancelled operations. It’s all happening at a time when the demographics are showing there is a need for more elderly care beds, not fewer.
The National Care Home Contract is negotiated annually between Scottish Care, all 32 Scottish local authorities and the 32 Integrated Joint Boards, an arrangement which has served everyone fairly well, but which is increasingly creaking under enormous pressures from all sides.
The continued shortage of nurses is another problem. The Scottish Government is trying its best to improve things by increasing training places and by sticking with the old system of grants for nurse training as opposed to the recent switch from grants to loans for nurse training in England. Whichever system is used, the fact is that we are simply still not training enough nurses. The situation is further worsened by too many nurses leaving the profession completely, either retiring early or simply leaving and doing something completely different.
Brexit is a large issue for care staff. My company recently carried out a full staff audit of our nearly 800 employees and we have found that 72.5 per cent are from the UK, 12.5 per cent from the rest of the current EU and 15 per cent from the rest of the world. We are considering setting up a special helpline at our HQ to help and assist our existing overseas staff with any worries and concerns they may have regarding work residency.
I would be very keen for the Scottish Government to commission an independent all-sector cost review covering all NHS, Local Authority, Voluntary and Independent sector elderly care provision to benchmark current costs and to enable better targeting of scarce taxpayer resources in the future.
Robert Kilgour is Chairman of Renaissance Care Group and founder of ThinkScotland.org