Notice of items which, in the opinion of the Chair, should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency pursuant to Section 100B(4) of the Local Government Act 1972.
The Leader allowed a question to be put to Cabinet with regard to care fees and for an answer to be provided thereon.
At this point, the Leader advised that he had received a request from Councillor Mark Young for a late question to be put to Cabinet regarding care fees and sought advice thereon. The Head of Legal, HR and Democratic Services explained the constitutional provisions relating to a question to be submitted to Cabinet, and the criteria for an urgent matter, neither of which had been met in this case. However, the Leader had discretion to allow the question. Having considered the question, and noting the importance of the topic, the Leader exercised his discretion and allowed the question to be put. The question referred to an existing policy and the Leader advised and reminded Councillor Young of the internal mechanisms available within the Council, such as the Scrutiny Committees, should he wish to challenge or scrutinise that policy.
Councillor Mark Young read out his question as follows:
“You will be aware of the press across Wales and more recently in North Wales regarding care costs paid by local authorities. Last month, Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet voted to increase fees for nursing care by 25%, and now also Anglesey have agreed to increase its fees, also by up to 25%. I am told that Conwy and Wrexham have also conducted reviews of funding levels. So due to these recent reports as mentioned, my question, after the above both being raised in the press and to me personally, and going alone the councils are moving away from the regional approach on care funding, where are Denbighshire regarding this? I feel the response today by Cabinet will be helpful and appreciated by elected members, residents and of course care providers.”
Councillor Elen Heaton, Lead Member for Health and Social Care responded to the question put as follows:
“I am aware of the recent press regarding care fees in North Wales and I do welcome this opportunity to address this issue and to clarify Denbighshire’s position. Each year, Denbighshire County Council sets the fees in advance of the next financial year for externally commissioned Residential and Nursing care packages, Specialist Care Homes, Domiciliary Care, and Supported Living Schemes. This is not a unilateral decision, it is in collaboration with the North Wales Regional Care Fees Group and in consultation with providers. Broadly following this regionally agreed methodology, a decision was taken in January of this year to increase the fees and to pay the Real Living Wage. This meant for the 2022 – 23 financial year (from the previous year fees) there was an increase of: 6.96% for residential care homes, 10.15% for EMI residential care homes, 7.04% for nursing homes, 10.21% for EMI nursing homes, and 8.12% for domiciliary care.
Letters had been sent out in February to providers outlining the proposed fee increases, and meetings had been held to discuss this. Whilst many of our providers have welcomed this, concerns have been raised about increased costs, such as: fuel cost increases impacting domiciliary care; groceries, utilities and insurance cost increases affecting care homes; acknowledging the reliance some have placed on the Welsh Government’s temporary covid-19 financial uplift support which has now been taken away, and of course the cost of further recruitment and retention challenges. Therefore, a further decision had been taken in June of this year to recognise this current challenge and to provide additional uplift to the current fees, and just as a side note I would like to add this was before Gwynedd and Anglesey had publically announced their fee increases. So this means for residential and nursing care home fees and specialist care home fees a decision was taken to increase CPI from 3.1% (September 2021) to 7% in March this year to reflect the inflating costs. For domiciliary care a decision was taken to apply an additional 50p rate to all our hour-long calls, which is half the £1/hr which had been supplemented by the Welsh Government for the whole of 2021/22 and to increase the cost of increasing the half-hour calls by 50p in recognition of the provider feedback and reduced productive time between shorter calls. This has been backdated to 1 April 2022 and letters had been sent out on 21 June to the providers confirming this and it had been welcomed by many. I will just read a response from one of the providers for you, it reads “I just wanted to thank you for the additional component to the uplift for 2022/23. It is very positive that you were able to respond to the points raised by providers and is appreciated. Please pass on our thanks to others involved in the review”.
The most important point that I would like to add to that, as I think it is necessary for members to be aware of as well as residents, is that Denbighshire has always maintained the position with all of our providers, if they have particular difficulties, we would meet with them and undertake an open book exercise. So to reiterate this, the offer is there for providers to meet with the Council if they are having financial difficulties so long as they justify the need for additional support by opening their books. So to summarise, I do think it is important to consider the context from comparing figures as our social care market is significantly different to that of Anglesey and Gwynedd, so with that in mind Denbighshire has been reviewing this issue and has provided fee increases that have reflected our local pressures and I know that Denbighshire will continue to work with providers and the North Wales Regional Care Fees Group as it now begins work to determine the care fees for 2023/24.”
The Leader thanked Councillor Heaton for the response, as did Councillor Mark Young, who also highlighted the need to review the regional approach going forward given the move away from the North Wales standard fees by two councils.