Fund social care now to protect NHS, Sunak told

Billions needed to help social care support patients and relieve pressure on the NHS

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 27 October 2021 00:01
<p>Rishi Sunak has promised the NHS huge sums to cut waiting lists</p>

Rishi Sunak has promised the NHS huge sums to cut waiting lists

Billions of pounds pledged for the NHS will be undermined if Rishi Sunak does not give immediate funding to the failing social care sector, NHS leaders and council bosses have warned.

As the chancellor prepares to deliver his budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday he faces a warning that the huge sums set aside to clear hospital waiting lists will end up being wasted because of social care-related blockages in the system.

As care homes and community nursing services are being forced to close to new patients, the number of people staying longer in hospital is rising, meaning fewer beds available for those coming in via A&E or for routine surgery.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “People are now trapped in hospital, in distress, instead of being sent home to receive social care because of shortages of care staff and long waiting lists.”

There have been warnings the health service could face its toughest winter ever this year as Covid cases merge with existing weaknesses including social care.

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Healthcare leaders know how closely linked health and social care services are, they are sister services so when one suffers so does the other.”

Ministers have repeatedly promised a plan to fix social care “once and for all” but the full plan has yet to be published. A new 1.25 per cent health and care levy on national insurance will raise £12bn for the NHS to cut waiting lists before reverting to social care in 2025 – a switch critics say is unlikely to happen.

The Local Government Association and NHS Confederation have issued a joint call to the chancellor for more money for social care in Wednesday’s Budget or risk the NHS backlog taking longer to clear.

They say immediate funding is needed to help councils cope with the rising demand, increasing vacancies and low pay in social care. The Care Quality Commission has warned vacancies are now at 10 per cent in social care with some providers closing their doors because they can’t find nurses.

The LGA estimates that £1.5bn is needed now to stabilise the care provider market and then £1.1bn per year over the next three years, to meet extra costs from rising demand for social care while maintaining current levels of quality and access.

In its health and social care plan published last month, the government stated that health and care challenges are “interrelated” and that “social care is an integral part of our society and economy”. The LGA, which represents councils and the NHS Confederation on behalf of the healthcare system in England, say this now needs to be translated into real action, backed up by resources.

If beds in hospitals remain blocked with patients who are ready to be discharged but have nowhere to go this will mean hospitals can do fewer operations.

Mr Ashworth said: “Tory ministers have spent a decade slashing social care budgets pushing social care services to breaking point.

“Ministers have just imposed a punishing tax rise on working people yet have failed to bring forward any credible plan to fix social care and reform health services to ensure the care patients deserve.”

Council leaders said increases in local council tax bills cannot be relied on to plug gaps as the tax raises different levels of cash depending on the value of local homes and is disconnected from local care needs.

Cllr David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils have long warned about the impact of an underfunded social care system on the NHS. There cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable adult social care system.

“Immediate extra funding is needed in the spending review to help avoid a situation where people spend longer in hospital, rather than in their own home and communities – or having their operations cancelled more regularly – as NHS pressures become unsustainable this winter and councils are left increasingly powerless to help.”

Dr McCay added: “While [NHS leaders] are grateful for the additional investment given to help tackle the elective care waiting list, they are aware that a well-funded and good quality social care sector is also vital to a healthy nation and a strong and well-performing NHS.

“New short-term funding which addresses the present crisis is urgently needed ahead of what will be a perilous winter, but we also need long term funding to radically improve services and improve the recruitment and retention of social care staff.”

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