Thousands of elderly and vulnerable people in Scotland are facing “worry and uncertainty” because the company which provides their care is running out of money.
After an English regulator warned about its finances, Allied Healthcare has only secured funding for the first three weeks of December and is trying to sell or transfer all its social care contracts across the UK – including 17 services in Scotland.
While local authorities have a legal duty to ensure care is not disrupted, Simon Bottery of the King’s Fund health think tank said that service-users and their families will be experiencing “anxiety and disruption” because of the crisis.
Allied Healthcare delivers 15,000 hours of care each week in peoples’ own homes from its branches in Fraserburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Falkirk, Greenock, Lanarkshire, the Isle of Bute, East Lothian and Elgin.
Jim Eadie, Age Scotland’s policy officer for Housing said: “These are ‘life line’ services which many older people depend on in order to live at home safely and independently. It is vital that a solution is found so that older people can continue to receive the care which they need in their own home.”
Over the last 25 years, the job of caring for people in their own homes has increasingly done by private companies like Allied Healthcare – which is owned by a German asset manager called Aurelius Equity Opportunities.
In 1993, 95 per cent of care in peoples’ homes across the UK was conducted by local authorities, but by 2012 this figure was just 11 per cent.
Bill Johnston, chair of the Scottish Seniors Alliance criticised the privatisation of care. He said: “The problems with care arise when profit becomes the determining factor and pushes common humanity aside. Older people in care homes should be able to sleep easy in their beds and not be faced with the kind of disruption that can arise when a private provider decides it wants to get out of the business.
“Care for the elderly should not be down to the marketplace and it is time we all woke up to the fact that as the population ages, we need to guarantee a much more stable provision than the market will ever provide.”
Cat Hobbs, the director of the pro-nationalisation We Own It campaign agreed, saying that the privatisation of social care has caused uncertainty for elderly people.
“Older, vulnerable people in need of care are not an investment opportunity – we must not allow them to be treated this way,” she said.
“Thousands of elderly people are now facing worry and uncertainty as the financial fortunes of Allied Healthcare seem to be up in the air. If the company runs out of cash then vital services across Scotland will be under threat.”
It’s time to stop gambling with peoples’ lives. Care work should be for people not profit. Cat Hobbs, We Own It
“The public sector is already getting ready to pick up the pieces while the private sector gets ready to walk away. This is just the latest scandal. It’s time to stop gambling with peoples’ lives. Care work should be for people not profit.”
Trade union Unison Scotland conducted a survey of home care worker members in July 2016. Eighty per cent of those surveyed thought their service had been affected by privatisation or budget cuts.
In its report Unison Scotland blamed the UK government’s austerity programme for budget cuts. But it added that the Scottish Government had failed to use its tax-raising powers to mitigate the effect of the cuts.
Since the report was published though, the Scottish Government has raised income taxes on wealthier people and increased real-term funding available to councils – although opposition parties have argued that this budget increase is not enough.
Scottish Labour criticised the Scottish Government for allowing private companies to dominate the care market. Scottish Labour Cabinet Secretary for Health, Monica Lennon MSP, said: “The care sector is under increasing pressure to deliver more and more, with less and less resources. An over-reliance on private provision means there’s less accountability and problems arising if those providers have to withdraw.”
“We need a shift in the balance of care and a properly resourced care sector, and the next Scottish Labour government will prioritise driving up standards of care received by the public.
“We know that too often the market is not delivering those standards so Labour will look to bring private care contracts back under public ownership. We will invest in making social care a profession with a career path and a decent wage to recognise the value of this critical work, underpinned by our commitment to build a caring society.”
SNP politicians have also expressed concern about private ownership of care contracts. SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, said Aberdeen Council should take over Allied’s contracts “which would give care recipients, their families and the staff involved the security that they deserve.”
“Folk should not be left in the lurch while private companies try to transfer staff and contracts,” he added.
Allied Healthcare itself has criticised the English regulator, Care Quality Commission (CQC), for issuing a warning over its finances on 5 November. The company said the decision was “premature and unwarranted” and has negatively affected its staff recruitment and retention in the run-up to the busy Christmas period.
After the CQC’s warning, Scottish councils, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) held a ‘national contingency planning’ meeting on 14 November. Councils have promised to fulfil their legal duty to ensure care is not disrupted.
The Scottish Government said: “We are aware of the developments around Allied Healthcare. The Care Inspectorate is in close contact with Allied Healthcare and will continue to liaise with them, as well as with COSLA and the CQC, to ensure there is no disruption in the service provided.”
Allied Healthcare said: “We will work closely with the CQC and all commissioners of care to ensure that there is minimal disruption to the care that we provide across the UK whilst this transition takes place. Continuity of care is our number one priority.”
In Westminster, Conservative health and social care minister Caroline Dinenage told Parliament: “Business failure is a normal part of a functioning market and local authorities have appropriate plans in place to minimise disruption of services”.
Kings Fund senior fellow, Simon Bottery, warned that problems in the social care system are widespread. “Allied Healthcare are not the only major care provider experiencing financial problems,” he said. “Their difficulties are yet another wake-up call to the huge problems in social care.”
The social care sector could experience further problems as a result of Brexit. Documents obtained by The Ferret through freedom of information requests show the Scottish Government is concerned that Brexit could affect staff recruitment and retention as many workers are European Union nationals.
SNP MP, Brendan O’Hara, is pushing in Westminster for an independent review of Brexit’s impact on health and social care. His private members’ bill has the support of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru but will need the support of some Conservatives or Democratic Unionists if it is to be successful.
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.