Social services winter fears

31 Aug 00
Council social services departments' inability to cope with demand could plunge the NHS into another winter crisis, health authorities and trusts said this week.

01 September 2000

Around half the 85 health authorities and 150 hospitals in the UK questioned by the Press Association feared local social services did not have the spare capacity to allow hospitals to discharge patients safely into the community.

Bed-blocking is believed to be a major reason for hospitals turning away emergency cases and postponing routine operations during the winter period.

The NHS bodies also warned that lack of staff or shortages of the 'flu vaccine could have a similar effect.

The crisis alert was made despite a £212m injection of cash into the NHS, ring-fenced to spend on measures aimed at relieving winter pressures.

The Department of Health expects health and social services to spend more than £400m this year to ensure inpatients are found a place in a residential home or given support in their own home as soon as they are well enough to leave hospital.

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the British Medical Association, told PA: 'The survey reveals the very real pressure points in the NHS and in social services. Shortages of staff, or beds or 'flu vaccine could easily blow the service off-course and leave it struggling to cope in a severe winter.'

Health authorities are currently drawing up winter action plans and the survey found all are on course to complete these by the end of September deadline.

The strategies should include sums to be shared with social services, but some councils fear the cash will be spent on the NHS rather than bolstering community care.

But Moira Gibb, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, was more optimistic about her members' prospects of coping.

'The NHS has been given significant new resources and we are anticipating we will be able to share these,' she said. 'It is a priority to prevent delays caused by social services not having resources or services in place.'

She said staff costs were a particular problem. 'It is extremely difficult to recruit appropriate staff and we have to improve salaries in order to recruit. This is putting extra pressure on budgets.'


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