NHS chiefs: don't take £2bn to patch up social care

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The NHS will "buckle under the pressure" unless the Government stops using it to plug the funding gap in social care, health leaders warn today.

A £2bn annual gap in social care funding is putting pressure on already stretched NHS resources. These are acting as a "sticking plaster" while politicians fail to solve the failing social care system, according to a report by the NHS Confederation, which represents all organisations that commission and provide NHS services.

The warning comes as charities and local authorities accuse the Government of dithering over vital changes to the care system and a former Health minister accuses the Treasury of "blocking work" to improve the situation.

The NHS Confederation wants the Treasury to find funds for the "practical and credible" proposals of the Dilnot Commission, which outlined a blueprint for reform last year. The recommendations form part of the Care and Support Bill, but with the Bill still at a draft stage and the NHS already struggling to make "unprecedented" savings of up to £5b a year, the confederation says the Treasury needs to find a funding solution now.

Jo Webber, the confederation's deputy director of policy, 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."

The number of those who lived past the age of 90 rose by 21 per cent in the decade from 2001. With the population over 65 due to rise by 50 per cent over the next two decades, and the amount of people with dementia set to more than double by 2050, the numbers requiring social care are expected to increase. The confederation's report was backed by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which said "increasing the spend on preventative, community-based services would reduce high end costs for both health and social care".

Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said: "The Government needs to show vision and courage and put in place the fair and sustainable funding that is required to ensure that older people, both now and in the future, get the care they desperately need."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it had provided £7.2bn funding over four years and was investing a further £300m.