CASH-strapped council chiefs fear costly legal action over Wigan’s old age care.
The borough spends an average of £339.86 per person per week on nursing home fees for private sector beds - compared with a North West average of £373.
Now with one of the biggest older populations in the entire region - and growing - director of People Nick Hudson has warned that fees must rise despite the financial squeeze or the borough could face a High Court challenge and see geriatric care being plunged into crisis if cash-squeezed care homes go bust.
Latest figures show an almost 10 per cent increase in the need for residential care spaces - to 1,103 per year - over 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, while nursing bed provision rose by nearly 15 per cent to 488.
The council fund 70 per cent of the placements.
Applying neighbouring authority’s net spend per head into Wigans 65-plus population shows the town hall’s level of spend on older people last year was £11.7m BELOW the county average, Mr Hudson revealed in a hard-hitting report to councillors as part of the decision making as part of the 2012/13 council tax and budget setting.
That compares with figures which show the council spending of 15.5 per cent above neighbouring authorities in the 18 to 64 population across the borough.
Wigan is also facing a greater average increase in the number of over-65s than any other local authority in the North West.
By 2015 it is anticipated there will be an additional 8,300 people in this age group locally - with 3,500 of these being over 75 and this sector is calculated to rise to 85 per cent by 2030. Mr Hudson said that this rise in the Wigan 65-plus population has “inevitably impacted” upon levels of demand for adult social care services across the community along with residential based services.
Meanwhile, enhanced life expectancy has also seen a rise in the “complexity of need” as well as the level of support required.
He pointed out that the council could face court action unless it increases spending on old age provision next year.
And he warned that a recent study found that care providers had been absorbing an average real term reduction in their margins of 2.5 per cent in 2011/12 on top of 1.4 per cent in 2010/11.
Mr Hudson said: “They go on to predict that other providers will experience collapse similar to Southern Cross if local authorities don’t increase what they pay for care placements. Wirral Council is facing a legal challenge over its decision to cut fees by residential providers by 9.5 per cent next year. Even if implemented Wirral providers would still on average receive more than providers in Wigan.
“Based on an analysis of the fees paid across the North West in residential care, Wigan are the lowest payers and are therefore at significant risk of being affected in terms of quality, financial breakdown and market failure.
“While Wigan have been able to manage fee increases for the past two years it seems unlikely that we can move forward in 2012/13 without significant risk of legal challenge or financial breakdown.”
His report calls for the borough to increase in fees by 2.5 per cent in line with the average for the North West over the next two years “at least in an attempt” to safeguard the council against court action or more care providers going bust.