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Uncertainty continues for largest care home provider workforce

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The future of thousands of nurses and healthcare assistants employed by Southern Cross Healthcare remains uncertain, following news that the troubled care home provider has given itself a four month breathing space to stabilise its precarious finances.

The company, which is the largest care home provider in the UK, has 41,000 staff working at its 750 homes. Staff have faced an uncertain future since Southern Cross revealed its rocky financial position nearly three months ago – it made a £311m loss in the six months to the end of March.

The company, which rents the bulk of its care homes, said its rent burden had become “unsustainable” because budget cuts were forcing local authorities to negotiate lower fees for private care places.

Last week it announced that it would be delaying payment of 30% of its rent till the end of September, which would give it a “summer platform” to agree “appropriate restructuring” of its affairs.

It said it was confident that enough of its landlords would support the move – although there was no formal agreement – to allow it to go ahead with the restructure, which could potentially see many homes sold to other providers. A further announcement is expected in July.

Southern Cross chair Christopher Fisher said: “We are in dialogue with the Department of Health, our lenders and landlords and they continue to support the process.

“The objective will be to emerge with a stable and sustainable business model for the continuing care of our residents.”

Nursing Times understands that a senior nurse from the company told conference delegates last week that it was “business as usual” from a nursing point of view and staff were just carrying on caring for residents.

However, a spokeswoman for Southern Cross told Nursing Times that no one was available to officially discuss the implications for the nursing workforce and that it would not be commenting beyond the financial statement released last Tuesday.

The GMB union, which has 10,000 members employed by Southern Cross, has previously described the situation as staff having the “Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads”.

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