The NHS backlog caused by the pandemic will take even longer to clear if immediate national funding to tackle pressures facing social care now is not announced in today’s Spending Review, health and council leaders warn, in the face of rising COVID-19 cases and potentially the most challenging winter in the history of the health and care system.
The Local Government Association and NHS Confederation are joining forces to call on the Chancellor to use the Spending Review to provide genuinely new money for social care to help prevent admissions and get more people out of hospital and safely into their homes and communities.
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 the necessary resources so that social care, like the NHS, benefits from significant national funding now to tackle immediate pressures.
Social care pressures make it harder to tackle the serious backlog of cases needing to be dealt with by the NHS due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, where beds are still occupied by people who are medically fit to be discharged but do not have care arrangements in place for their return.
Both organisations say that today’s crucial Spending Review must inject urgently-needed new national funding to address severe and mounting pressures that are resulting in growing unmet and under-met need, greater strain on the care workforce and unpaid carers and increased pressure on an already unstable provider market.
Further increases in council tax and the social care precept to pay for these immediate pressures also cannot be relied upon further, as this raises varying amounts in different parts of the country, unrelated to need.
Recent government funding announcements to help clear the NHS backlog for people waiting for tests and scans and on care workforce retention and recruitment will be useful, but are not enough to meet the immediate pressures facing social care now, and do nothing to address the core issue of care worker pay.
The £162.5 million workforce fund for adult social care will help in making staffing ratios safer and tackle significant recruitment and retention challenges as we head into an extremely challenging winter. However, they need to be seen in the context of wider pressures. The LGA estimates that £1.5 billion is needed now to stabilise the care provider market and then £1.1 billion 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.
The Spending Review needs to provide sustainable funding to help councils and providers plan with confidence over the longer term, as opposed to one-off, time-limited injections of funding.
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.
“It is clear that our health and care system faces a hugely difficult winter ahead. Councils will continue to work hard with the local NHS amid unprecedented funding pressures to try and help people live independently and reduce demand on the health service.
“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 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. While they 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.”