FEARS are growing of care home closures across Essex as almost £7.6m of public funds was stripped from the system caused partly by a “collapse in demand”.

The multi-million pound reduction in spending has partly been caused by families unwilling to send their loved ones into care homes.

The actual impact is likely to be much higher because many residents pay privately.

The vacancy level within care homes in Essex is leading to concerns that many are not getting the level of business that keeps them viable.

Essex County Council’s £4.1million underspend in health and adult social care at the end of last year has now increased to £7.6million.

But County Hall has promised the unspent money will be spent on an expected upturn in demand.

John Spence, cabinet member for adult social care, told the county council’s cabinet, said: “We saw during the crisis an unexpected collapse in the utilisation and demand for places in care homes.

“Partly this is due to what was happening in the care homes themselves partly, due to a reduction in referrals from families.

“This has led to issues of the viability of care homes which is well understood and publicised.

“We are now working on thinking with the market on how we can ensure that in every part of the county we have a viable offer that combines quality and choice.

“We will expect to see an increase in demand and so the £7.6 million has been put forward as a carry forward for expenditure on social care.

“We expect we will be utilising it to deal with increase in demand around re-ablement and domiciliary care and in dealing with other issues in social care such as mental illness – much of which gets funded at the acute end by the national health service – but in terms of the prevention agenda it is in there we do so much.”

It is “almost certain” care homes will close due to Covid, a report from the county council said at the end of last year.

It leaves the uncomfortable reality that some residents will have to face the trauma of being moved away from their surroundings if providers close in the face of cash pressure.

Last year, there were 1,700 vacancies at care homes across Essex.

The care home Covid-19 death toll appears to be leaving many wary about putting their loved ones in a care home.