Letter from the Health Correspondent: How will councils manage healthcare with yet more cuts?


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The Independent Online

Among those who run our NHS, all eyes will be on one place in the year ahead: Manchester. That’s because in April 2016, £6bn of the NHS budget will be handed over to the city’s leaders. All the different kinds of health professional (doctor, nurse, carer, physio, support worker etc) will be working hand in glove for a single organisation that combines the work of the NHS and the social care and public health role of the local council.

As reported in i yesterday, many experts think this kind of reform has the potential to rescue the NHS from its cash crisis. Some of the plans are bold: 600,000 Mancunians most at risk of disease will be offered a year-long care package to address health and lifestyle factors that might land them in hospital.

It all sounds terrific. But there’s a catch. In the long run, bringing together health and social care should save money: fewer lifestyle diseases for the NHS to treat; older people cared for affordably at home, not in hospital. So runs the mantra. But it will take years for those savings to come through.

In the meantime the NHS and social care – combined or not combined – will have to carry on doing more for our growing and ageing population, at greater cost.

That’s why last week’s Budget, which failed to mention new investment in social care, or set out a long-term spending plan for the NHS, has so many health experts worried. Whichever party wins in May, more eye-watering cuts are expected in the next parliament. If, as in the past five years, a big chunk of them comes out of councils’ budgets, what effect will that have on the great social care revolution in the NHS?