NEARLY six in 10 care homes for the elderly are struggling with staff shortages according to a report which lays bare for the first time the extent of vacancies across the sector.

Campaigners warned that poor pay and uncertainty surrounding Brexit are at the root of a crisis in recruitment and retention which is contributing to a rise in care homes being forced to close because they cannot meet safe staffing levels.

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The latest figures have been compiled by the Care Inspectorate, the watchdog for care providers, and Scottish Social Services Council, the regulator for social workers.

They reveal that 59 per cent of care homes for older people in Scotland do not have enough staff, with an average vacancy rate of 4.8%.

Half (52%) of care homes for the elderly reported that empty posts were hard to fill due to a lack of applicants in general, but a lack of candidates with suitable experience or qualifications was also a major factor in preventing recruitment.

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Only 12% of care homes for the elderly said they could not afford the wages to fill posts, but 10% said the cost of living in the area was too expensive to attract staff.

Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care, which represents independent care providers, said care home closures were likely to escalate, causing anxiety for frail elderly people and their families.

He said: "These roles and services are essential to the success of the whole health and social care system in Scotland.

"Yet people are doing highly skilled jobs for poor remuneration because they are not sufficiently valued and recognised for doing so.

“We recognise a significant percentage of care homes closed last year because they can’t recruit staff.

"We anticipate even more doing so, not least because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. The reality is that care homes remain essential components of our health and care landscape but we are losing them.

"Without them, hospitals and community supports would face unprecedented and impossible demand so we need to stem the flow of both staff and services exiting the sector as a matter of urgency."

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It comes as figures published by ISD Scotland show that the number of registered care home places for elderly people in Scotland decreased by 3% between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

Meanwhile the number of dementia guardianships - issued where an adult is too incapacitated by the disease to look after their own affairs - surged 36% in four years, from 865 to 1,176 in 2016/17.

People aged over 75 are the fastest growing age group in Scotland. Their numbers are expected to surge 27% between 2017 and 2027, increasing demand for care services.

Yet more than 460 beds have vanished since 2016 alone as a result of care homes for the elderly closing.

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland’s chief executive said: "We hear of stories where older people are forced to accept places in care homes that are hours away from their family and friends, which makes it much harder for them to maintain any form of social connectedness, and has a negative impact on their quality of life and health.

"It comes as no shock that this report has found that the social sector is under enormous pressure with problems recruiting and retaining staff. More must be done to encourage people to see social care as a fulfilling career, and this includes better pay packages."

Gordon Weir, interim chief executive of the Care Inspectorate said high-quality care was "strongly associated" with having "an effective and stable staff team".

He added: “The Care Inspectorate recognises that recruitment and retention into some parts of the social care sector remains a challenge, and we collect significant data about the places and parts of the sector where recruitment problems are more challenging."