UP TO 600 care homes beds in the BCP Council area are reportedly currently vacant – with some homes mothballed as they struggle with regulations or finance.

Councillors have been told that the number of vacancies could be higher, possibly 1,200, because of homes which remain registered but are lying dormant.

But despite the downturn the area remains well provided for with 30 per cent more beds than the national average and offering care for people not only from the local council area but also for neighbouring Hampshire and Dorset. Around 90 per cent of local homes are rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding,’ also higher than the national average, putting the BCP area in the top 15% for care home provision.

The council’s adult social care overview and scrutiny committee was told that home closures have accelerated during the pandemic as the number of residents fell and because some found it difficult to meet standards, or recruit staff, or just found the going too tough.

Around half of those in local care homes are funding their own care with the rest supported, or partially supported, by the council.

Director for adult social care commissioning Phil Hornsby told the Monday evening meeting that council staff did all they could to support local homes and to help with recruitment and staff retention and, together with NHS partners, to provide equipment and additional staffing support.

He said that there was now a need to renew the fee structure as the council sought to reduce care home admissions. He said there was also the need to plan ahead for changing levels of need as most people were admitted to residential care later in life with more complex needs, having been helped to stay in their homes for longer.

The meeting also heard about proposals to provide more extra care housing where it would be easier to keep couples together, with some support, and where people could take their pets, something which was often not allowed in residential care homes.

Overall, at the end of 2019/20 the council was supporting 243 people in extra care housing.

Population projections figures suggest that, to provide sufficient extra care housing, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole should increase the provision to 1,312 units by 2030 and 1,577 units by 2040.

To do this potential sites would need to be identified soon, each with a minimum of 45 spaces, and to persuade suitable developers to take the schemes on, not only for older people, but for younger people with disabilities, or those with mental health problems.