A snapshot study in June showed that out of 9,735 available beds, a quarter – 2,404 – were empty. That is an 87.6 percent increase on last year’s 1,281 vacant beds. Total average occupancy rates were 81 percent this year compared with 92 percent for last June, the National Care Association (NCA) found.
There have been nearly 20,000 Covid-19-linked care home deaths to up to June 12.
The majority of those died on the premises.
Care Campaign For The Vulnerable founder Jayne Connery blamed the empty beds on unclear family visit policies, lack of Covid testing before being sent to care homes and once inside, fears that a dying person’s family will not be able to say a final farewell.
Miss Connery said: “No wonder care homes have spare beds. Elderly people don’t want to live in them, families are taking loved ones out and councils are using their bulk purchasing power to buy beds in certain homes and not others, which forces their closure.”
NCA chairwoman Nadra Ahmed said: “Providers have been delivering care services despite the funding challenges for over a decade at least. Any resilience they had in their businesses has been eroded by this virus and many now face an uncertain future.
To find out what is going on in your local area, please fill in your postcode below.
“The Government response to calls for support was late and inadequate. They must now redeem themselves by responding to the call for urgent support to halt provider failure across the country as the sector faces rising debt and low occupancy.”
The Croft Care Group, which runs three homes in West Yorkshire and one in Durham, reported half the beds in one home were empty.
Director of care James Creegan said: “Being brutally honest, if things didn’t improve then we would need to look at the future of the care home and whether it is financially viable going forward.
“Currently we have 34 people living here – if we had to make a decision to close I know I would be pretty devastated.”
Simon Jones of end-of-life charity Marie Curie said the pandemic had “accelerated” the need to make decisions on care homes’ future.
He said: “If we fail to find a sustainable model for care homes we will only create a fresh new crisis in the near future.
“A crisis for the NHS, social care, families and, most importantly, for the tens of thousands who need a care home at the end of their lives.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are doing everything we can to support the social care sector and will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure reforms last long into the future.”