The varying standards at Lancashire care homes means residents are faced with a postcode lottery when it comes to social care, a Gazette investigation has revealed.
Despite increased spending, social care is coming under growing pressure as an ageing population puts more strain on the system.
And while the Fylde coast has some of the highest standards of care in the county, new figures reveal which parts of the county don’t measure up.
Of the homes within the Blackpool Council area, more than 90 per cent are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission – and none have the lowest ‘inadequate’ grade.
Yet for Lancashire County Council, which covers Fylde and Wyre, just 75 per cent of homes are ‘good’ or better.
Just two of the 12 inadequate facilities in Lancashire were on the Fylde coast.
Coun Amy Cross, Blackpool Council cabinet member for adult services and health, said: “It is reassuring to know that Blackpool’s care homes are meeting CQC standards for good or outstanding service.
“This means that people can be confident that the care received by perhaps family members or friends in so many of our town’s homes are performing well with respect to the rigorous standards of performance expected.”
She said the council had ‘invested significantly’ in quality monitoring and support for care providers.
While most care homes are privately run, the two councils spent more than £440m between them last year on adult social care.
Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for adult services, Coun Graham Gooch, said he was ‘pleased’ with those judged to have made the grade but said the quarter of homes falling short will be expected to improve.
It comes as LCC is investing £6m to drive up standards across adult social care.
“CQC inspections are rightly very rigorous and help ensure residential homes provide the very best care possible,” he said.
“It is very tough for care homes to achieve a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ rating.
“When care homes receive ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ ratings, we work closely with colleagues from the CQC and NHS clinical commissioning groups to address the issues raised.
“Our specialised team of safeguarding staff work with managers on action plans that will help them to improve standards.
“When homes close, we act quickly to ensure people are relocated in suitable, alternative care homes as quickly as possible.
“We’re always looking to improve our support for private care homes.”
CQC deputy chief inspector of adult social care Debbie Westhead, said: “Our inspectors visit every care home in Lancashire to ensure people are getting a good standard of care.
“We monitor, inspect and regulate, publishing what we find including giving homes a rating to help people make informed decisions about their care, or the care of a loved one.
“We set out what good and outstanding care looks like and we make sure the care that services are providing, never fall below a set of fundamental standards.
“Where we find poor care, we will use our powers to take action which can include removing a provider’s registration or even prosecuting them through a court of law.”
What the unions have to say
Research from the trade union UNISON found that only 17 per cent of residential care workers feel that they have enough time to spend with residents without being rushed and compromising their dignity or well-being, with 88 per cent saying they didn’t have time for a conversation with residents.
North West regional manager, Kevin Lucas, said: “Lack of investment in social care means that care home staff don’t always have the time or resources they need to provide quality care.
“Low staffing levels mean that staff are not permitted to spend time talking with residents – some of whom may not have regular visitors.
“There is certainly a need for more investment in high quality care for care home residents. But we need to remember that most of the organisations that run the homes are seeking to make a profit.
“There is a danger that extra money will not be invested in better care but extracted in higher profits.
“Where care home places are bought from the private sector there needs to be more demanding commissioning requirements to make sure that care and employment standards are high.
And for the sake of stability and quality, there needs to be more care home capacity provided directly within the public sector.”
Rise in care home costs for pensioners
Data compiled by Prestige Nursing and Care reveals that the annual cost of living in a care home in the North West is now £29,432 a year – up more than seven per cent since 2016.
The data also states that the average pensioner income has decreased by 2.2 per cent to £14,196, leaving a care cost shortfall of £15,236.
Managing director of Prestige, Jonathan Bruce, said: “It is alarming to see care home costs continue to rise so out of sync with pensioners’ incomes. With later life incomes stagnating, the rising cost of care will eat away at a growing number of families’ finances as they use their assets to meet bills for vital support.
"This reinforces the fact that we are facing a serious and prolonged social care crisis. Spiralling costs mean people must talk about how they will fund care for themselves or their loved ones earlier, and avoid being stung. The enormity of the challenges facing the sector means there is a desperate need for a political solution to the crisis.
“While fixing social care will not be easy, it can be turned around if policy makers set out a concrete plan that takes into account the need of patients, providers and councils. A free-fall in standards across the sector is unacceptable in one of the richest countries in the world.”