The quality and safety of care services for elderly and disabled people in England risks being undermined by financial pressures, the care watchdog has reportedly warned.
Data gathered by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) showed the number of care homes has fallen dramatically as providers struggle with rising costs, including the introduction of the living wage, and the tightening of local council budgets, according to reports.
The regulator is said to be set to raise its concerns with the Government that needy, vulnerable older and disabled people could be left with nowhere to go if the problem goes unchecked as the population ages.
In its annual assessment of care in England, the CQC will also warn ministers of the impact that deteriorating social care would also have on the wider NHS, according to The Guardian.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of adult social care at the watchdog, told the newspaper: "We know that the adult social care sector faces many financial pressures which, worryingly, could undermine the quality and safety of care that people receive and rely upon every day."
The chief inspector was responding to reports that a leaked internal document based on data received from 39 large providers had revealed how capacity in the social care sector was shrinking.
The memo reportedly showed an 8% fall in the number of care homes in the last six years, from 18,068 in September 2010 to 16,614 in July 2016.
Over the same period the number of beds available in care homes fell by nearly 20,000 between 2010 and 2016 from 255,289 to 235,799.
The number of nursing homes increased marginally, from 4,387 to 4,623, but the number of residential homes for the elderly fell from 13,681 to 11,991, equal to more than one in 10.
The report said data showed "a local authority funded service user problem. Notwithstanding recent fee increases, the historic level of underfunding remains and in some cases has probably increased as a result of (the) national living wage".
Ms Sutcliffe told The Guardian the information "does highlight a concern that the long-term sustainability of high-quality care within this sector could be at risk. Given the impact this would have on people's lives, it is important that we continue to monitor these trends closely".
The CQC is due to present its annual State of Care report to Parliament on Thursday, weeks after one of the country's biggest not-for-profit providers of care in the community said it was pulling out of the market.
Housing And Care 21 was working with 150 local authorities to provide care for elderly and disabled people, amounting to 35,000 hours of home care a week.
Its chief executive, Bruce Moore, said it could no longer provide high quality care on the funding it was given by local councils.