Hospital patients facing 'severe' cutbacks if elderly care crisis not solved

The current system of care is in danger of becoming “unsustainable” if more money is not made available, they say.


A Government scheme transferring hundreds of millions of pounds a year from NHS budgets to care is no more than a “sticking plaster” and could cause serious problems for hospitals if it became permanent, they add.

The warning comes in a report by the NHS Confederation, which represents managers in health trusts, amid debate about the future of the social care system.


Around 1.2 million frail or vulnerable people in England rely on care services provided by their local council.


But it is thought that almost one million more are in need but do not receive help because they do not qualify for state support and cannot fund it themselves.


The report offers strong support for the recommendations of the landmark Dilnot report to cap the amount anyone would pay for care in their lifetime at around £35,000, to enable people to plan for old age and take out insurance.


But it warns that even if the Dilnot recommendations are implemented in full, the estimated £2 billion needed to fund the system would have to be found by the taxpayer.

And it argues that any attempt simply to take that money from the NHS would amount to “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.


More immediately, it warns the Government that a temporary system involving transferring money to social care from the NHS cannot be sustained in the long term.

The Department of Health is giving councils up to £2 billion a year by 2014 to spend on care for the elderly and disabled amid swingeing cuts to local authority budgets.

That will include up to £1 billion a year being diverted directly from the NHS into the crisis-hit social care system.


“We recognised this as a necessary ‘sticking plaster’ in the short term, however, the transfer did not represent a long-term solution,” the report says.

“In many areas this money has had to be used to paper over the cracks in the system and local authorities have had to plan on the basis that this money will continue to be available.

“Without further action on funding, even the basic social care that we currently expect for the very old will not be available in the future from local authority-funded social care.”


The report outlines how, although NHS funding is being protected amid the cuts, it is coming under greater pressure than ever, with the ageing population fuelling demand.

It estimates that so-called “bed blocking” alone costs the NHS £200 million a year – a cost expected to rise as social care becomes more scarce making it harder for hospitals to discharge elderly patients from wards.


“If the long-term funding challenges are not solved, the system will become unsustainable,” it adds.

Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “The health service cannot keep on picking up the pieces of a broken social care system.

“If it continues to do so it will buckle under the pressure.

“A policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul would be very short sighted.

“We need to address this issue now and transform models of care, or risk paying the price further down the line.”


Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “We recognise that the NHS has substantial savings of its own to make to help meet the costs of rising demand and new treatments.

“But we firmly believe that increasing the spend on preventive, community-based services will reduce high end costs for both health and social care.”


Cllr David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community well-being board, added: “Paying for adult social care already takes up more than 40 per cent of council budgets and notions that efficiency savings alone can bridge the ever-increasing funding gap are pure fantasy.”


A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are already providing £7.2 billion over four years so that local authorities have sufficient funds to protect people's access to care and support.

"We're also investing a great deal more money in specialised housing, £300 million to support better joint working between health and care, and tens of millions on improving information for people.

"But this is not just about money, earlier this year we announced the most comprehensive reform of social care in over 60 years. These reforms are about transforming care and support to make the best use of the resources we have – by focusing on maintaining people's independence and well-being, and by driving up quality through more choice, control and information.”


Sourced from The Telegraph, 24th September 2012.