• CQC figures show nursing home bed capacity dropped by 400 after small annual increases since 2013
  • More care homes closed their nursing units in first half of 2016 than in all of 2015
  • People delayed from leaving hospital due to lack of nursing home availability up by 60 per cent in a year

The number of beds in nursing homes has fallen for the first time in five years, according to the Care Quality Commission.

Data obtained by HSJ from the CQC, which registers and regulates care home providers, shows the number of beds has decreased by over 400 since the end of March last year, following a rise in capacity of at least 1 per cent a year since 2013 and 7 per cent in 2012.

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Older man

Delayed transfers of care are at their highest since 2010

CQC chief executive David Behan’s report to its board meeting, taking place today, ascribed the decrease to ongoing problems in recruiting nurses. It said the “difficulty nursing homes have in recruiting and retaining nursing staff” and the resulting reliance on agency staff has already “influenced” the quality of care offered in nursing homes and is now “beginning to… impact on capacity”.

The number of nursing homes has also reduced this year – by almost 1 per cent after a steady rise in numbers since 2013, and an almost 7 per cent increase in 2012.

The latest figures from NHS England showed that in July this year 938 people were delayed from leaving hospital as they were “waiting for a nursing home placement or availability”. This is an increase of 61 per cent from July 2015 and a 9 per cent increase from just the month prior.

The CQC said it has also seen an increase in care homes closing their nursing units. In the first half of 2016, 73 care homes cancelled their CQC registration for “regulated activity of treatment of disease, disorder or injury”, which is required to provide a nursing unit in a home. In 2015, there were 72 cancellations.

The report added: “[The CQC] will continue to keep these trends and the impact on quality under review.”

Richard Humphries, assistant director for policy at the King’s Fund, told HSJ that nursing home capacity is a “finely balanced system”, which over the last five years has been “the most buoyant part of the social care market”.

He said: “It remains to be seen whether [this year’s] increase in fees from councils [to nursing care homes] and the effects of the 40 per cent increase in NHS funded nursing care payments will be enough to stabilise the position or [whether] continuing difficulties in recruiting nurses will work in the other direction.

“I think nurse recruitment this year will be crucial as so much hangs on that; obviously nursing homes can’t operate without sufficient registered nurses”.

The NHS England data shows that delayed transfers of care are at their highest since this information was first recorded in 2010. In July, 6,364 patients were prevented from leaving hospital despite being medically fit due to problems with community care provision – a 30 per cent increase on the same time last year.