COUNCILS INI NORTH WALES have been accused of acting “unlawfully” for starving care homes of the essential funds they need to look after frail and vulnerable people.

According to Care Forum Wales (CFW), many local authorities are breaking the official guidelines which state they need to “take into account the legitimate current and future costs faced by providers”.

Apart from being grossly unfair, they say, it was also “deeply hypocritical” because they often paid their own council-run care homes substantially more for providing the same level of care, leading some to reignite debates of a North-South divide.

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CFW resigned from the North Wales Fee Setting Group – which also included representatives from the six local authorities in North Wales and the Health Board - amid claims that the region’s councils were “deprioritising care” despite being given more money by the Welsh Government to pay for it.

In South Wales, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council recently voted for increases of between 16 and 22 per cent in funds, after studying a report by officials of the legal position which meant they were obliged by law to pay sustainable fees to providers.

North Wales Chronicle: Chaseley House Care Home in Rhos-on-Sea. Photo: Mark OwenChaseley House Care Home in Rhos-on-Sea. Photo: Mark Owen

Councillors were told they were duty-bound to comply with the requirements of Welsh Government in setting fees for care homes.

The report said: “Fee setting must take into account the legitimate current and future costs faced by providers as well as the factors that affect those costs, and the potential for improved performance and more cost-effective ways of working.

“The fees set need to be adequate to enable providers to meet the specifications set by the commissioners, together with regulatory requirements.

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“If a Council deviates from guidance without a considered and cogently reasoned decision it acts unlawfully and in a manner which is amenable to challenge and judicial review.”

CFW chair Mario Kreft MBE said: “This excellent report to Merthyr councillors backs up what we have been saying all along and emphasises that the chronic underfunding of social care in many parts of Wales is quite simply unlawful.

“Unfortunately, the message does not appear to be reaching the councillors in North Wales and certain parts of South Wales who are living in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to paying realistic fees that will enable care homes to stay open and provide a much-needed service and underpin the NHS.

“The only way that care homes can remain viable is by charging top of fees so that they can meet those additional costs.

North Wales Chronicle: CFW chair Mario Kreft MBE.CFW chair Mario Kreft MBE.

The analysis from Merthyr Council follows an announcement of big increases in their rates by Torfaen Council – 17 per cent for residential care and 25 per cent for nursing care.

It means that a 50-bed care home in Torfaen will receive £546,000 a year more for providing residential EMI care than a similar sized home in Anglesey, Wrexham and Flintshire for exactly the same levels of care.

In the cases of Denbighshire and Gwynedd, it equates to an extra £494,000 a year and £444,600 more than a home in Conwy.

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This comes at a time when local authorities in Wales have received an additional £36.5million to meet the extra costs of paying staff the Real Living Wage of £9.90 an hour.

“We know budgets are stretched but a society will be judged on how it treats the most vulnerable and frail people in our communities,” said Mr Kreft, “How can it be right that, that in the eyes of councillors in North Wales, your mother, your father or your grandparent are seen as being worth £12,000 a year less than those in somewhere like Torfaen?

“The growing North-South divide means that our beloved care home residents are being dismissed as second-class citizens and it’s also an insult to our magnificent front-line workforce.”

North Wales Chronicle: Bradshaw Manor Care Home in Rhyl.Bradshaw Manor Care Home in Rhyl.

Glyn Williams, who runs the Gwyddfor Care Home in Bodedern, near Holyhead, said the problem was not a recent one, and that it is “ludicrous” of councils to believe current funding regulations are right.

“The First Minister recognised that social care was in a fragile state before the pandemic.

“Social care has been underfunded in Wales for many years, and most of it is brought on by local authorities mismanaging their funds.

“Local authorities are supposed to take account of providers’ legitimate costs, but in North Wales the toolkit that the group of authorities use is so far out of date, it’s beyond belief.

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“It’s simply ludicrous to think we can keep a vulnerable person safe and at a high standard of care.

“Anglesey are paying £646 a week, so £92 a night – you wouldn’t get a decent hotel for that rate.

“We can’t take anyone at that rate – we just cannot do it, so this year we charge £912.

“The local authorities in North Wales are taking advantage of providers and pass on people at lower rates.”