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NHS ‘can’t cover soaring social care costs alone’

By Richard Johnstone | 24 September 2012

Failure to reform adult social care funding could leave the NHS short of cash and have a ‘severe impact’ on the quality of patient care, the NHS Confederation warned today.

The group, which represents NHS authorities and trusts, said continuing to dip into health care coffers to meet rising social care costs would be ‘a short-sighted policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

Its report, Papering over the cracks, said the number of people aged over 65 is expected to grow by 50% over the next 20 years and the number with dementia to more than double to 1.7 million by 2050.

These trends are increasing the demand for local authority-funded social care, but town halls are facing major funding shortfalls. In June, the Local Government Association warned that councils faced a £16.5bn funding gap by 2020 due to rising care costs.

To meet existing pressures, in 2010 the government allocated an additional £2bn a year to social care by 2014/15, with £1bn coming from the NHS. An extra £300m will also be found from health service efficiency savings over the next two years, the government announced in July.

The confederation said local authorities were ‘understandably’ planning their spending on the assumption that this money continues to be available.However, as the NHS was already ‘labouring to find unprecedented efficiency savings of up to £5bn a year’, continuing with ‘sticking plaster’ cash transfers could seriously affect patient care, it warned.

Instead, a cross-party political consensus should be reached to address both the immediate cash shortfall, and the introduction of the Dilnot Commission’s proposals for a cap on the costs of social careas a long-term funding solution.

Jo Webber, NHS Confederation deputy director of policy, said the NHS and local government shared the social care problem and needed to share the solution.

‘We cannot solve this problem on our own,’ she said.

‘Increased funding is a key part of this solution. Without the involvement of the Treasury, including a clear outline of how we will address long-term social care funding in the next Spending Review, we will see a decline in services and greater pressure building on the NHS.

‘We support the short-term transfer of NHS funds to support local social care shortfalls in funding. But 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.’

Responding, the Local Government Association said that councils had already managed a £1bn cut in adult social care funding, and faced a further reduction of £890m this year.

David Rogers, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: ‘Councils are committed to doing the very best for people in later life and, despite a 28% funding cut from government, council spending on adult services this year is expected to fall by just 2.5%, the lowest for any service area.

‘However, there is unquestionably an immediate and growing funding crisis in adult social care which needs to be urgently addressed, alongside wider reform to the system to make it simpler and fairer. Paying for adult social care already takes up more than 40% of council budgets – and notions that efficiency savings alone can bridge the ever-increasing funding gap are pure fantasy. Expecting the NHS simply to pick up the tab is also not the answer.’



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