One visit to care home shows why we can't go on like this

17 November 2019, 16:24 | Updated: 18 November 2019, 10:12

A nurse rushes up the corridor putting on surgical gloves as she goes. Another runs in the opposite direction slinging on a plastic apron.

A panel on the wall is full of flashing red lights, each representing a room in which someone wants help. And as well as the lights, an alarm bell rings constantly and never seems to shut off.

Medicines are being prepared by another nurse at a table in the corridor; tablets of all shapes and sizes all carefully stacked and ready to be dispensed.

A woman approaches a nurse and asks politely when her relative will be seen.

The phone is ringing, but everyone seems too busy to answer it.

It looks like a hectic hospital ward, but this is not a hospital ward. It is a residential care home for the elderly.

"It's constantly busy and we are under a lot of pressure to deliver extremely high standards of care," says Nicola Richards, the director and sole owner of Palm Row Healthcare, which runs three residential and nursing homes in Sheffield.

Nicola is responsible for 200 elderly residents and 200 specially trained staff, but says the way the industry is funded means she has not made a profit for the past six years.

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Local authorities, who provide publicly funded care, pay care providers like Nicola a set fee to care for an individual. But that rate can vary dramatically from council to council.

Spending on adult social care in England has fallen by 2% in real terms since 2009-10, according to the Institute for Government.

And an ageing population, combined with cuts to local government services, has led to a growing crisis within social care.

Parties of all colours have been careful to stay away from specific policies ahead of this general election.

In the past, reforms to social care have been damaging to election campaigns.

Theresa May's plans in 2017 to force the better off to pay more for their care were branded a "dementia tax". She was forced into a rapid U-turn.

Gordon Brown's attempt to reform social care led to the Tories branding it a "death tax" in the 2010 election.

Until manifestos are launched, details are not known. Labour wants to introduce free personal care costing £6bn, but not including residential care, while the Lib Dems say they will put a penny on income tax.

So far, the government has failed to publish the long-awaited green paper on social care and its future.

Care providers like Nicola Richards want an independent body set up to establish what she calls "the true cost of care", based, she says, on staffing costs rather than a fee decided by local authorities.

Nicola said: "We have a shortage of trained nurses and more people than ever to care for. That's not sustainable.

"There needs to be a greater appreciation of the true cost of care. At the moment the amount we get for an individual is not enough to cover the cost of delivering the care.

"We are in a terrible position at the moment. It is very tough. We are very close to closing, it's imminent."

Around 30 beds in this home are called "intermediary beds" - NHS hospital beds for patients discharged from hospital but who are not well enough to return home.

The level of care required for these patients is often very high and expensive, says Nicola.

When asked if she thinks her company will be trading in a year, she replies: "Honestly? No. No, I don't."

Almost 1,000 care homes, housing more than 30,000 residents, have closed over the past decade, according to research by LaingBuisson.

Fulwood Lodge Nursing Home, operated by the Sheffield-based care company Silver Healthcare, closed last month with the loss of 38 full and part-time jobs and 40 residential beds.

Roy Young, Silver Healthcare's managing director, said the business could not continue making a loss.

Roy told Sky News: "There is a chronic shortage of nurses in this country and the local fee we get from the council simply is not enough to pay for the service we provide. We cannot continue providing champagne for the cost of lemonade.

"We need someone to work out the true cost of care and crucially that needs to take into account staffing costs."

Roy said 82% of his costs went on staffing. The home is now being sold to property developers.

An NHS spokesperson said they won't comment on funding issues during an election period.