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Budget cuts leave more elderly without help

Funding for long-term care needs reform

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Social care providers are struggling to maintain both staff and quality, two think tanks have said today.

In a damning report published jointly by The Kings Fund and The Nuffield Trust, experts argue that social care providers are struggling to stay in business, with government-funded care for elderly people increasingly rationed in England. 

The report found that six consecutive years of cuts to local authority budgets had led to 26% fewer people getting help. It noted that many social care providers are surviving by relying on people who can fund their own care, and that home care services face “acute workforce shortages and are now in a critical condition everywhere, threatening to undermine policies to support people at home.”

The report, Social Care for Older People, focused on the current state of social care services for older people in England, through a combination of national data and interviews with local authorities, NHS and private providers, Healthwatch and other groups. It considers the impact of cuts in local authority spending on social care providers and on older people, their families and carers.

No one has a full picture of what has happened to older people who are no longer entitled to publicly funded care, stated the report. And it warns that the situation for older people has been compounded by pressures elsewhere in the NHS. 

“Cuts to social care should not be viewed in isolation from overstretched general practice and community nursing and the uneven distribution of intermediate care beds; these are all factors identified by our interviewees. Under-investment in primary and community NHS services threatens to undermine the policy objective of keeping people independent and out of residential care,” it states. 

The most visible manifestation of pressure on health and social care budgets, states the report, is the “growth in delayed discharges from hospitals”. 

And the situation was not expected to improve. “The funding outlook for the next five years looks bleak. The measures announced by the government will not meet a widening gap between needs and resources set to reach at least £2.8 billion by 2019. Public spending on adult social care is set to fall to less than 1% of GDP. The potential for most local authorities to achieve more within existing resources is very limited and they will struggle to meet basic statutory duties,” it says. 

The Kings Fund and the Nuffield Trust said long-term reform was needed.

“England remains one of the few major advanced countries that has not reformed the way it funds long-term care in response to the needs of an ageing population,” stated the report, which concluded with a call for a ‘frank and open debate’ on how to fund health and social care on a sustainable basis into the future — a long-term strategy that will “exceed the lifetime of a single parliament.”  

Commenting on today’s findings, Richard Humphries, Assistant Director of Policy at The King’s Fund said: ‘‘The failure of successive governments to reform social care has resulted in a failing system that leaves older people, their families and carers to pick up the pieces. Putting this right will be a key test of the Prime Minister’s promise of a more equal country that works for everyone – there is no more burning injustice in Britain today than older people being denied the care they need to live with independence and dignity.”

Amanda Cheesley, Royal College of Nursing Professional Lead on Long Term Conditions and End of Life Care, said: “Good social care does cost money but it makes no financial sense to keep people in hospital because there is nowhere for them to go to. Until social care sees real, sustained investment, far too many older people will be stuck in the revolving door of hospital admission, declining health and reduced independence. There is no part of health and social care that is not affected by this failure – it needs tackling now to meet the needs of older people and the increasing demands of the future.”

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