NHS faces bed blocking crisis after health spending review
NHS patients will be denied hospital beds because they will be bed blocked by the elderly and vulnerable who are unable to get council care after government cuts, a health service chief has warned.The Coalition has promised to increase the NHS budget over the next four years, even as it cuts more than £40 billion from other public services.
Patients will be left untreated as the NHS struggles to mop up the consequences of severe cuts in local authority funding, said Nigel Edwards, the head of the NHS Confederation.
The Coalition has promised to increase the NHS budget over the next four years, even as it cuts more than £40 billion from other public services. Local councils will bear some of the heaviest cuts.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Edwards — whose organisation represents NHS trusts running hospitals and ambulance services — says the cuts in local authority budgets will force them to reduce care services for the elderly and vulnerable.
“Less support from council services will quickly lead to increased pressure on emergency services and hospitals,” he writes. “Hospital beds will be blocked for those who badly need care because the support services the elderly require after discharge will not be available.”
Calling for a greater co-ordination of council care services and NHS facilities, he says: “When it comes to the care of the most vulnerable in our society, it really is essential that the NHS and local authorities are in it together.”
His warning coincides with the most explicit admission yet from a Cabinet minister that the Coalition’s cuts in public spending will cause genuine distress.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, says in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that the cuts will mean real hardship for many. “For a lot of people it’s going to be very difficult indeed,” he says.
Mr Edwards’s warning comes in response to this week’s spending review, which set out Coalition plans to address the deficit in public finances. Central government support for councils in England will be reduced by 27 per cent over the next four years, leaving them seeking deep cuts in the services they offer.
Councils last year spent £14 billion on adult social care services. Care funding is the largest part of council budgets not legally ring-fenced, leaving it vulnerable to cuts.
To reduce the scale of any cuts in care, the Treasury this week earmarked £2 billion over the next four years for councils to spend on adult care services. However, local government leaders and charities said it was not enough to compensate for larger cuts in council budgets.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said even with the extra cash councils would still face a £4 billion shortfall in budgets for adult social care by 2014. A spokesman for the LGA said the spending review would have a significant impact on care services.
Some councils have already begun raising the entry criteria for care to those judged to be in the most severe need.
Government sources said ministers were aware of the likely pressure on the health service and had set aside funds in the NHS budget for care services.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was understood that social care could have an impact on NHS demands and that is why they were strengthening programmes that would integrate hospital care with care in the community, as well as providing the extra funding.
He added that “we expect local health and social care professionals will work together” to “improve outcomes for everyone”.
Kieran Mullan, from the Patients Association, said: “Social care and the NHS do not exist in silos. One impacts directly on the other. Poor services in the community lead to admissions to hospital and lack of services prevent discharge when it might be best for the patient.”