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Government releases extra funding for social care to ease NHS pressures

The government has released £12m of extra funding to councils to help get people out of hospital and ease the pressure on the NHS.

Hospitals have been facing unprecedented levels of demand this winter as A&E departments overflow with patients, leading to as many as 16 hospitals to declare major incidents. One of the major contributing factors is widely believed to be cuts to social care budgets.

This has led to many trust beds being filled with patients who are medically fit for discharge but who are forced to remain because there is no care available for them once they get home, a problem some refer to as ‘bed blocking’.

NHE previously reported that the Department of Health released an extra £25m in emergency funding to help tackle the problem, tacitly acknowledging the impact of social care cuts.

This week the Department for Communities and Local Government provided £12m more to help join up health and social care services.

The government says that the money will mean up to 3,500 more people a week will get home from hospital more quickly this winter.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles said: “Social services have to be part of the solution to the high demand on hospitals at the moment,” he said. “We know that they can help by getting people home more quickly when it is safe to do so once they have been discharged. And we also know that the best social care can prevent some people from having to go to A&E in the first place by supporting the elderly to live with dignity and independence at home.

“From April our £5.3bn Better Care Fund will start to transform the way we join up health and social care so that there aren’t separate systems and phone numbers for solving the same problems. It will prevent up to 160,000 A&E admissions and save over £500m in the year ahead. But with hospitals under pressure in the cold weather this winter we have also found extra money to help out now.”

Earlier this month NHE reported that more than 1.9 million bed days were lost to the NHS in the four years to June 2014 – equivalent to 482,000 bed days per year. 

However, in the period June to November 2014 alone, this figure rose by more than 400,000 – almost one year’s worth in just six months. 

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, of the Local Government  Association said: “While this extra money will go some way to plugging the funding gaps adult social care departments are facing it doesn’t nearly go far enough. December’s Autumn Statement provided £700m for the NHS to help deal with winter pressures, yet social care is still only getting a disparate amount of £37m – a mere drop in the ocean compared to other ongoing cost pressures the system is facing.

“Social care only accounts for 25% of all delays in the system. It’s vital that we ensure all local areas receive the help that they desperately need to get people out of hospitals and living in the community sooner.

“It’s not enough for consecutive governments to keep plastering over the cracks with short term fixes. Recent events have demonstrated the pressures facing the whole social care and health system. We urgently need a longer term solution that puts social care on a sustainable footing. Failure to do so could mean that the hospital crises we have seen will be a regular feature on our winter calendar.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said his members state regularly that delayed discharges are a very significant problem and a major contributor to current performance difficulties in accident and emergency services.

“You get what you pay for, and you cannot reduce social care funding without significantly increasing risk for the NHS, however hard local authorities work,” he added.

“The government has to properly fund both the NHS and social care to deal with rapidly rising levels of demand as the population lives longer and with increasing numbers of older patients with complex multiple conditions.”

Research by NHS Providers found that half of hospitals reported that at least 10% of beds are taken up by people who are medically fit for discharge, in a survey of 50 NHS trust heads across England. Twenty of the respondents said as many as one in five beds could not be used for new admittances.

Care minister Norman Lamb said that the £700m of funding for hospitals this winter was a record, not acknowledging that this has had little effect on the problem.

He added: “We have also provided councils with an extra £25m to councils to provide additional social care packages to help people move out of hospital. The NHS and local authorities are already preparing joint plans to work together better, keep people well and avoid hospital admissions. This new money will help speed up that work this winter.”

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