NHS hospital patients facing severe cutbacks if elderly care crisis not solved
NHS patients will see “severe” reductions in their care in the next few years if the Government does not close an estimated £2 billion shortfall in funding for care for the elderly, hospital chiefs are warning.The current system of care is in danger of becoming “unsustainable” if more money is not made available, they say.
A Government scheme transferring hundreds of millions of pounds a year from NHS budgets to care is no more than a “sticking plaster” and could cause serious problems for hospitals if it became permanent, they add.
The warning comes in a report by the NHS Confederation, which represents managers in health trusts, amid debate about the future of the social care system.
Around 1.2?million frail or vulnerable people in England rely on care services provided by their local council.
But it is thought that almost one million more are in need but do not receive help because they do not qualify for state support and cannot fund it themselves.
The report offers strong support for the recommendations of the landmark Dilnot report to cap the amount anyone would pay for care in their lifetime at around £35,000, to enable people to plan for old age and take out insurance.
But it warns that even if the Dilnot recommendations are implemented in full, the estimated £2 billion needed to fund the system would still have to be found by the taxpayer.
And it argues that any attempt simply to take that money from the NHS would amount to “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
More immediately, it warns the Government that a temporary system involving transferring money to social care from the NHS cannot be sustained in the long term.
The Department of Health is giving councils up to £2 billion a year by 2014 to spend on care for the elderly and disabled amid swingeing cuts to local authority budgets.
That will include up to £1 billion a year being diverted directly from the NHS into the crisis-hit social care system.
“We recognised this as a necessary ‘sticking plaster’ in the short term, however, the transfer did not represent a long-term solution,” the report says.
“In many areas this money has had to be used to paper over the cracks in the system and local authorities have had to plan on the basis that this money will continue to be available.
“Without further action on funding, even the basic social care that we currently expect for the very old will not be available in the future from local authority-funded social care.”
The report outlines how, although NHS funding is being protected amid the cuts, it is coming under greater pressure than ever, with the ageing population fuelling demand.
It estimates that so-called “bed blocking” alone costs the NHS £200 million a year – a cost expected to rise as social care becomes more scarce making it harder for hospitals to discharge elderly patients from wards.
Tags: Age Concern, Care Professionals, Health Professionals, home care, National Health Service, NHS, nhs cash shortages, NHS charges, nhs cutbacks, social care