ONE of Scotland’s leading providers of housing for the elderly has been accused of leaving scores of frail and vulnerable residents in the dark after announcing plans to close all its care homes. Bield Housing said it aimed to be “the housing provider of choice for older people in Scotland”.

But as the first step in a new five-year plan it will close a dozen residential care homes, and decommission a sheltered housing service for those with the greatest care needs.

In letters sent out to residents, the housing provider said it planned to withdraw from care home provision within nine months, and promised to help them and their families make alternative arrangements.  Bield said the decision had not been taken lightly, but amid a crisis in funding in the sector, most of its residential care homes were no longer viable.

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While the charity is in negotiations with some local authorities to see whether the units can be kept open, the expectation is that most or all of its 12 residential care homes will close, forcing 167 residents to make new arrangements.

The son of one resident of a South Lanarkshire home criticised the firm for its approach, adding that the letter received was "meaningless". “My mother is likely to have to move miles away from where she was born and brought up,” he said. "It is upsetting for all the residents."

Reasons for the move are understood to include the ageing nature of the properties, making them unsuitable for modern care, a change in the kind of accommodation older people want and above all cuts in the funding available from local councils.

The care home sector has warned for several years that services are increasingly unsustainable, but industry experts said the withdrawal of one of the most prominent charities from the market was a sign of things to come.

Brian Logan, chief executive of Bield Housing and Care, said that with staffing and running costs increasing, higher demand to cope with issues such as dementia and cuts in local authority funding, a long-term solution was needed to strengthen Bield’s finances.  “The decision is very much a last resort option," he said. "We have carefully considered a wide range of options to continue delivery of these services however, we have been unable to find a solution that will be viable in the longer term.

“We are aware of the serious impact these changes will make to people who use our services, their families and our staff. Those impacted by the changes have been advised and in the coming weeks and months we will be holding consultation meetings to discuss what options are available to those affected – with the aim of minimising the impact as far as possible.”

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Dr Donald MacAskill, of industry body Scottish Care, said his members were facing similar problems to those faced by Bield, with councils paying less to fund places. At the same time, running costs, improvements required by the Care Inspectorate, and the Scottish Government’s demand for a living wage for carers, have combined to create a perfect storm.

“It is the multiplicity of these which is particularly challenging. One on its own could be dealt with but put them all together and providers reach a place where they seriously consider withdrawing from the sector,” he said.

“The loss of a significant player like Bield is illustrative of these difficulties. Increasingly, our members are finding care home provision is unsustainable," he said.