My Lords, I am informed by the Care Quality Commission that, as of 31 March 2015, there were 464,110 nursing and residential care home places in England. According to the annual reports of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the predecessor to the CQC, the equivalent figure as of 31 March 2005 was 451,288.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but will he ensure that the number of care home places remains at a sufficiently high level to enable people to be discharged from hospital when it is deemed safe to do so? If there is currently a shortage of care home beds in, for example, rural counties such as North Yorkshire, will his department work very closely with local authorities up and down the country to ensure that people can leave hospital and go to a care home when that is appropriate?
I thank my noble friend for making a very important point. Clearly, the capacity in the care home sector is important for ensuring that there is a proper flow of patients out of hospitals and into a more appropriate setting. In regard to the county that she was talking about, North Yorkshire, I think the overall number of beds has been broadly flat over the period in question, but there has been an increase in domiciliary and supported accommodation, which is increasingly the way that care is being structured across the country.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that where there is a shortage of residential or, indeed, nursing home care beds, the onus on care falls on the families? Will he take this opportunity to update his honourable friend in the other place, the Minister for Health, who last week exhorted the nation to care for its elderly relatives? He apparently forgot that there are 6.5 million people who already do so at great personal cost to themselves.
The noble Baroness is quite right to highlight the work that carers do. There is now, of course, a national carers strategy to support those who are supporting their families, often in very difficult circumstances. The point that my honourable friend in the other place was trying to make was that there is an important role for families to continue doing so—in the way that parents care for children, children should do the same for their parents in return.
My Lords, it is absolutely evident that the care homes are facing an existential problem. Their costs have increased by 30% in the last year with the introduction of the national living wage, and their profits have significantly reduced. Some 1,500 homes have closed over the last six years. There is a major problem going on, and it is not good enough to exhort local councils to pick up the gap when their funding has been severely curtailed, which is also not helping care homes. When will the Government get a grip of this very serious crisis?
I am pleased that this Government have introduced the national living wage, which is supported, I believe, across this House and the other place. The noble Baroness is quite right that there is an impact on social care home providers, many of the staff of which are paid at that level. The truth is that there is a cost pressure, of course, in the social care sector—that is one of the reasons that the precept is rising quicker than it would have done otherwise—and the better care fund has been created to support more care provision in the appropriate setting that people want to have it in.
My Lords, with applications for nursing degrees having gone down by 10,000 and with planned immigration restrictions being imposed, what are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that we have not only sufficient beds but the caring and nursing staff to look after those who are using the beds?
The number of workers in the social care sector has increased by about 165,000 over the last five years: there is an increased demand because we have a growing population. I think that we are going to have another opportunity to talk about the impact on nursing degrees tomorrow, so I do not want to spoil the party. As for the impact of the European Union, of course, a significant section of the workforce comes from the European Union but we are increasing the number of nursing training places and there is also now a nursing apprenticeship scheme which is providing 1,000 places for people who want to enter the profession by that route.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that people in acute hospitals would not need to be there if there was somewhere they could go very soon after being admitted to hospital, such as rehabilitation centres? Many countries have small, nurse-led rehab centres; many of our smaller hospitals which are being closed down could be used in this way. People could go there as soon as they can out of the acute hospital sector. If we did that, we could solve some of the problems and we would have the right sort of care for a lot of frail people who are at the moment accused of blocking hospitals—they do, but it is not their fault.
The noble Baroness raises an incredibly important point. Patients end up in hospitals for a variety of reasons and it is not always the best setting for them. The kind of care she describes is important; it might be rehab centres or cottage hospitals. Indeed, what we are seeing through the sustainability and transformation plans are ideas for intermediate care and step-down care that provide exactly the sorts of things she is talking about.
Does my noble friend recognise that when care users go into a residential care home their own home is very often included in the means test, even if subject to deferred payment? However, if they receive their care at home, their own home is exempted. This both reduces the resources available to support care and also creates a disincentive to go into care homes for people for whom it might be the best result. Does my noble friend recognise this as an issue we should look at?
My Lords, what is the Minister’s view of Disability United’s recent FOI finding on NHS continuing care that a large number of CCGs are saying they will not support the care of chronically ill people in their homes if it is cheaper for them to be in residential care? How does this sit with the reality of the state of the residential care industry, with bed shortages in many areas so that patients cannot be transferred from hospital, and with the Government’s aim of giving chronically and terminally ill people choice about where they want to be cared for, particularly at the end of life?
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. There is clearly a need for additional capacity, because there is a much greater population. The number of people aged over 85 has increased by about 25% in the last five years and that will increase at a similar rate over the next five years, so more capacity is needed both at hospital level, in residential and nursing homes, and at a domiciliary level too.
My Lords, there are worrying trends of discrimination suffered by people in vulnerable groups, people with HIV, those who are ageing and others. Therefore, will the Minister work with care providers to ensure that such discrimination, ignorance and stigma are absolutely outwith the provision of such services?