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NHS and councils bemoan ‘missed opportunity’ to fix adult social care

Several health bodies and councils have expressed their disappointment at the lack of additional funding for public health in today’s Autumn Statement, calling it a ‘missed opportunity’ to address the current social care crisis affecting the elderly and disabled.

Despite many voices throughout the health care sector calling for extra funds, health did not warrant a single mention in Phillip Hammond’s debut statement as chancellor, with the statement instead focusing on housing, devolution and tax.

This has led to criticism from figures as high up as Stephen Dalton, interim CEO of the NHS Confederation, who said that the Treasury had missed a “golden opportunity” to ease the current strain on the NHS.

“While the government is right to review long-term spending plans, social care services are in crisis right now,” Dalton said. “Our staff delivering services on the frontline this winter will find it extraordinary that the government has turned a blind eye to the stresses and strains being felt in the health and social care system.

“Relying on a political rhetoric that promises to protect the NHS, but fails to acknowledge that a cut in social care results in a cost to the NHS, is an economic deception.”

Dalton’s criticism was echoed by Julie Wood, the chief executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners, who expressed her disappointment that the Treasury has not addressed the social care sector’s current woes following six years of unprecedented cuts.

She noted that the delivery of the Five Year Forward View had been established on a number of conditions which have not yet been met, with government funding not keeping pace with patient demand. Currently it is estimated that NHS funding will increase by only 0.2% per year to 2020 while the demand for NHS services is due to increase by 4% per year.

“Commissioners, like providers, will still continue to wrestle with the increasing financial pressures across the whole health and care system, spiralling demand and a drive to achieve long-term sustainability and transformation. This is now more the case than ever,” Wood said.

“Our members will work as hard as they can to ensure that the best possible care is delivered to their populations, and the lack of investment in either social care or the NHS in today’s Autumn Statement means that it is now critical that we have an open and honest conversation about what the NHS can reasonably be expected to achieve for patients with the resources available to it.”

Healthcare commentators recognised some promising aspects for healthcare in the statement, such as the announced increase in the National Living Wage (NLW), due to increase to £7.50 from April next year.

However, Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, pointed out that the NLW increase would add “several hundred million” to the cost of care and said that NHS employees would not see the full benefit.

“The implication of the chancellor’s statement, and the accompanying economic forecast, is that austerity is set to continue beyond this decade,” Charlesworth said.

“For the next few years NHS staff will feel the impact in their pay packets. The OBR confirmed that inflation is set to increase sharply – from 0.7% this year to 2.3% next year. The 1% cap on pay awards for NHS staff will bite even harder as pay struggles to keep pace with rising household bills.”

Concern was also raised by councils with Solace president Jo Miller calling social care “the elephant in the room”. The number of patients facing delays in hospital discharge due to a lack of authority support has increased by 80% over the past five years, the highest level since records began.

The Local Government Association urged the government to treat social care as a national priority, warning that “urgent action” must happen if councils are to stand any chance of protecting services caring for the elderly and vulnerable.

“Extra council tax-raising powers will not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care and councils will not receive the vast majority of new funding in the Better Care Fund until the end of the decade. Services supporting our elderly and vulnerable are at breaking point now,” said Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA.

Research released by Age UK last week found that the number of older people in England who don’t get the social care they need recently reached a new high of 1.2 million, a 48% increase since 2010.

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