Hundreds of care home beds empty in Sunderland, councillors hear

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Hundreds of care home beds are unoccupied across Sunderland at any one time, a meeting has heard.

Strategic Commissioning Manager for Sunderland City Council, Ann Dingwall, delivered a “Managing the Market” report to the council’s health and well-being scrutiny committee yesterday (April 11).

The report provides information relating to the care and support provider market including the ongoing work related to the commission team, quality and adult safeguarding.

The aim is to update the scrutiny committee on ongoing and new developments in the sector, allowing them to comment on schemes and help shape policy.

Within Sunderland, there are different provider markets including accommodation-based services for older people , people with disabilities, those with mental health needs and care/support in peoples’ homes.

In the meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre, Ms Dingwall said there were 47 older person’s care homes and as of March 1 this year, her report stated there were 1,985 beds.

This included an average occupancy of 85 per cent with 1,733 occupied and 252 empty.

Coun Geoff Walker said that the figures mean that at any one time there are hundreds of beds empty – which could be less due to short stays – and added “It seems like an awful lot of bed spaces.”

But Ms Dingwall, referencing the figure in the context of 47 care homes, said: “it doesn’t in my head.”

In terms of inspections, the commissioning team visited care homes which have been running since November and aim to deliver reports by the end of April 2018.

The outcome will be that homes will be given a quality rating which is liked to their Care Quality Commission (CQC) and internal rating, determining their fee levels.

In terms of care and support at home, the report added there are 30 agencies providing care and support at home located in the Sunderland area.

A contract is in place with 14 care providers supporting adults with complex needs, with four non-contracted providers used as “back-up”.

Of the 18 contracted and non-contracted home care providers that are accessed the most by adult social care, 13 are rated good, four require improvement and one has not been rated by the CQC.

Out of the 12 extra care schemes in the city providing 847 apartments, nine were rated as good, two require improvement and one is awaiting inspection.

Committee chairman, Darryl Dixon, questioned the “grey area” existing in the safeguarding service regarding the time period between referral and the “safeguarding actually coming in”.

Ms Dingwall said that “it is something we’re keeping an eye on” and that around 90 per cent of the time, safeguarding has already been put in place.

Coun Kelly Chequer also questioned the waiting times for independent advocacy in Sunderland – standing at 57 days – and described it as a “long time.”

Ms Dingwall, in response, said the waits were due to demand and staff pressures and said it was “not an acceptable situation,” adding measures were being taken to address this.

The committee also heard updates on council plans in the care sector, including acquiring and refurbishing a previously unoccupied care home and the development of one of the care home providers existing services.

Discussions are also taking place with a developer and care provider about a supported housing development in Washington alongside a pending planning application for a new facility in Thornhill.

This would include accommodation for five people with disabilities and complex needs, with planning applications already submitted to Sunderland City Council.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service