23 June 2000
Over recent weeks there has been mounting rumours that ministers are about to transfer all elderly care in England to the NHS. The prime minister and Health Secretary Alan Milburn believe the barriers between the health service and council social services departments are artificial and slow down the discharge of elderly patients from hospital.
But the LGA argued that councils have a full role to play in providing services to patients and seized on the Audit Commission report on rehabilitation services for older people, The way to go home.
The report appears to accept the current division of responsibilities, but urges the NHS and local authorities to work together more closely. It suggests they share arrangements through joint teams of social workers, therapists and nurses, led by a manager with responsibility for a pooled budget.
LGA chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham said better co-operation between the care agencies was needed. 'Local authorities, with their wide range of responsibilities including housing, transport, home helps and meals on wheels, are best placed to take a leading role in the provision of essential services,' he said.
'The report does not support the NHS Confederation's view for complete organisational change which would fail to end the postcode lottery of care, bed blocking or reduce health service waiting lists.' He added that the care of older people would not be served by 'another round of disruptive, costly and bureaucratic service restructuring'.
The commission highlighted areas where joint working was having a positive effect. In North Devon, for example, GPs who refer patients to a multi-disciplinary community team have seen a reduction in hospital admissions and readmissions for older people, as well as shorter stays.
But it added that care was often poorly co-ordinated and protocols for the transfer of patients between different parts of the NHS or between the health service and social services were often absent.