A Totnes councillor has raised concerns about the future of the county’s residential care homes following a recent closure in the area and a second one due in January.

Speaking at a council meeting last week, Jacqi Hodgson warned that care homes were closing across Devon and that fewer people were using them.

The Laura House care home in Totnes closed during the summer, while Forder Lane in Dartington is set to follow next January, forcing a dozen or so residents to look for new accommodation.

Speaking to this paper after the council meeting, Ms Hodgson explained that the crisis was more acute due to privatisation and falling demand in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.

“Homes aren’t managing to cover their costs,” she pointed out, adding that residential care homes were obliged to meet high standards but that this had become more difficult due to low staffing levels and falling demand.

“(In Forder Lane) they haven’t got full capacity, and that’s part of the problem. It seems that Covid has put a lot of people off using care homes for their families – there are concerns that it could come back.”

According to figures by the Office for National Statistics, 274,063 residents died in care homes across England and Wales as a result of the Covid pandemic up to the end of January 2022.

Regarding the running of care homes, a recent report by the Care Quality Commission, said providers were facing increased running costs, with some struggling to pay their staff a wage in line with inflation, “which affects recruitment and retention”.

It said: “This is likely to have an impact on people, both in the quality of care they receive and in providers’ ability to re-invest in care homes – data from our Market Oversight scheme shows that care home profitability remains at historically low levels.”

The report also warned that local authority budgets had failed to keep pace with rising costs and the increase in the number of people needing care.

Ms Hodgson, who is also a county councillor, went on to say that any care home closure was sad, as residents treated staff as “their second family”.

Cllr Jacqi Hodgson
Cllr Jacqi Hodgson (R. Torne)

She agreed that staff “were very dedicated and caring about what they’re trying to achieve” but pointed out that care homes were also businesses.

“People in social care work long hours and it doesn’t pay much - it’s a demanding job and there’s heavy lifting. It’s extremely worrying because there’s no obligation on the people running the homes to actually have to do it – they’re obviously not a social enterprise.”

She also expressed concerns over the future of another care home outside South Hams, in Teignbridge, but was unable to provide more details at the time of going to press.

According to Devon County Council (DCC), there are 17 care homes in South Hams. Data from DCC up to June 2019 showed that five care homes closed between 2018-2019 – before the pandemic struck - suggesting that running costs were high even before Covid.

A spokesman for Devon County Council told this paper: “There are any number of reasons why a care home provider may decide to close their care home. Closure is often a decision of last resort for care providers, and they will often work with us in order to

identify alternative care home provision for residents impacted by their decision. We work closely with the care home market in Devon, and provide support where we can in order to prevent homes from closing where it can be avoided.”