A Worcestershire home care provider has accused its local authority of “forcing down social care standards” by refusing to increase its provider rates for the next financial year.
Plans by Worcestershire County Council, seen by HCI, say it proposes to “increase rates by 0%” on April 1, 2021.
Crossroads Caring for Carers Worcestershire, which provides home care and respite services in the county, has condemned the plans, describing them as a “kick in the teeth” for carers and the people they care for.
In a letter sent to the council and the county’s MPs, chief officer Roger Garland said: “The true cost of providing a good quality domiciliary care service within Worcestershire already exceeds the amounts the County Council is paying, amounts that were agreed well before we even knew of the global pandemic and the dramatic impact that it would have on service delivery.
“Yes, it is possible for unscrupulous care providers to cover their costs by skimping on call times, poor quality training, failing to pay staff for travel time and for mileage between calls – a legal requirement. All these (and more) have been identified within Worcestershire, with some care providers arguably forced to take such action in order to maintain financial viability.
“I find it hard to believe that any County Council member or officer worth their salt would accept this poor level of provision, but can see that decisions about domiciliary care services within our county are based upon finance rather than quality.”
Financial support for the sector, provided by central government and administered by the council, was introduced early last summer when social care providers were told that it would continue “for the duration of the pandemic”.
But Garland said this support was withdrawn by the county council in August with “zero notice” and “contrary to the previous promise” of continued funding.
“How can the sector have confidence in the County Council when faced with such actions?” said Garland.
The chief officer revealed that Crossroads Caring for Carers Worcestershire, and other providers in the area, have been forced to reduce the number of client support hours they deliver as a result of COVID, and their income has fallen as a result.
He said that while some direct care staff costs have reduced, most business overheads have not done so, with some costs such as insurance “increasing dramatically”.
The outcome is a marked increase in the cost per hour of service delivered. Added to that, Crossroads said it is currently coping with an “all-time peak” in the number of active COVID cases in Worcestershire and, from April 1, it is expected to increase the rates it pays to staff in line with the 2.2% increase in the National Minimum Wage.
The letter continued: “All of this is well known to the council officers, which is why I find it astounding that they should think any of the social care providers in Worcestershire can continue to deliver a service of satisfactory quality when saying in relation to the fees they pay “it is proposed that the rates be increased by 0%”.
“This is no way to recognise the tremendous role played by social care staff working within the community, facing an invisible virus on a daily basis, a virus that can cause fear, serious illness or death.”
Garland said that Crossroads needs around a 3% increase in rates to cover inflationary increases related to the delivery of its service.
“A 0% increase, when taking inflation into account, equates to a reduction of some 3% in real terms, yet the council still expect providers to maintain a quality of service delivery that at least matches the terms of the contract. I have written to them asking how they think this is possible,” said Garland.
He added: “I know the County Council do not like the term ‘A race to the bottom’ but the reality within Worcestershire is that their approach is encouraging exactly that. They are forcing down standards by failing to adequately support the Social Care sector that helps elderly and vulnerable people to remain in their own homes and hopefully remain well for longer.
“The real losers in this approach are not only the Social Care providers who will go out of business, nor the staff who risk losing their jobs, but the elderly / vulnerable people living within Worcestershire who deserve to be treated with a greater degree of care, compassion, dignity and respect.
“I expect many of the council members and officers were on their doorsteps to ‘Clap for Carers’ earlier in the pandemic. Now it appears that these were merely empty gestures.”
When contacted by HCI for a response, Councillor Adrian Hardman, cabinet member with responsibility for Adult Social Care at Worcestershire County Council said: “The County Council has fully supported adult social care providers during the difficult Covid pandemic, providing as much support as possible including one-off funding grants and supplies of PPE.
“We wrote to adult social care providers, including all domiciliary care providers, at the start of January as part of a consultation into proposed fees for the 2021/2 financial year, included in the council’s draft budget. All of the responses we received are currently being assessed and these will feed into the draft budget which is being discussed by full council on February 18th.
“There are unfortunately significant financial pressures in adult social care due to the rising cost of more complex care needs, as well as increases in the cost of both transport and care delivery. The council forecasts that these pressures will continue to grow following the COVID pandemic but we will fully engage with providers and let them know of any decisions made.”