UK facing shortfall of 71,000 care home places

New research estimates that by 2025 there will be an additional 353,000 people aged 65 or over with substantial care needs © PA

An extra 71,000 care home places will be needed in England within the next eight years to cope with rising life expectancy and a consequent increase in the number of older people unable to live independently, according to a new study.

The research is the first to analyse the extent to which the current crisis in care provision for the elderly reflects not just rising numbers, but how growing life expectancy will increase the number of years that older adults spend with substantial care needs.

The study by Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, published in The Lancet, also highlights worries over the financial and social implications of a further rise in demand for health and social care services, which are already under great pressure.

Taking into account the one-off £2bn for social care announced in the Spring Budget, English local authorities say they face an annual £2.3bn funding gap by 2020 for the social care services they have a responsibility to provide.

The general election campaign showed just how much social care has become a significant political issue. The Conservatives’ proposal that people would have to pay all their care costs apart from their last £100,000 of assets — while hastily withdrawn — went down very badly with voters.

The new research estimates that by 2025 there will be an additional 353,000 people aged 65 or over with substantial care needs — the current estimated figure is 1.3m in the UK. The shortfall of 71,000 care home places represents an increase of almost one-third on the 220,711 places which existed in 2015, according to the most recent data available.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council, compared data on cognitive function and ageing for people aged 65 or over from three areas of England. From 1991 to 2011, life expectancy increased for men from 77.9 to 82.6 and for women from 81.5 to 85.6.

Yet care home providers say they are already under huge financial pressure. The National Care Association said hundreds of homes have closed in the past year due to financial and staffing pressures. “The growing challenge around funding and workforce recruitment and retention will have a major impact on our ability to continue to deliver the quality of services required,” the industry body warned.

The report stresses wider community cost and care pressures, too. Carol Jagger, the Newcastle University professor who led the study, said the findings had “considerable implications for relatives as older people would have complex needs, requiring sustained input from family carers or social care teams to support independent living”.

In response to the report, Sir Andrew Dilnot, who led a UK government commission on the funding of social care in 2010-11, said: “Expenditure on the cases of older people will need to increase substantially and quickly. It will be important to ensure that this expenditure is managed efficiently and in particular that the boundary between healthcare and social care is well handled.”

Rob Burley, director of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, urged the government to act to ensure “future-proof plans” to accommodate rising in demand.

Izzi Seccombe, head of the community wellbeing board at the Local Government Association, the body which represents local authorities, said reform of adult social care was urgently needed. “While it is great news that life expectancy is increasing, the Lancet study confirms our warnings that this will heap even more pressures on social care and the demand for services, which are already under huge strain.”

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