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NHS leaders bemoan insufficient social care aid in council settlement

Health service leaders have welcomed the government’s decision to allow councils to access a new adult social care support grant and bring forward a planned increase in the social care precept but have warned that the measures will “not be enough” to relieve the sector’s crisis.

Speaking about the local government finance settlement at the Commons this morning, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said that councils will now be able to raise a 3% care levy in the next two years, along with a grant made up of New Homes Bonus savings.   

While the precept and the grant are expected to boost the stretched sector by almost £900m, NHS Confederation’s chief executive Stephen Dalton said that this will not address immediate pressures this winter.

“The government cannot ignore the call, from both the NHS and local government, to act and avoid a crisis in social care this winter. While this announcement is a step in the right direction it does not go far enough,” Dalton said.

“A shortage in adequate social care puts real pressure on hospitals as more people end up in A&E and cannot be discharged when they are fit and ready to go. This relatively small cash boost fails to address the long-term funding shortfall and so while we welcome the promise of a review into the sustainability of social care, it must happen quickly.”

Implementing the 3% social care precept would allow councils to raise up to £208m in 2017-18 and £444m in 2018-19. However, criticism has been raised that the councils which most need additional funding will earn least from this initiative due to the lower tax bands of their properties.

NHS Clinical Commissioners CEO Julie Wood was pleased to see the government acknowledging the pressures facing social care following its omission in the Autumn Statement last month but said that the settlement alone will not make a “significant difference” to the knock-on effect that insufficient social care has on the NHS.

“As we’ve highlighted in our evidence to the Health Select Committee and the Lords Select Committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS, the lack of social care funding and therefore the availability of these services, results in the needs of the population, particularly frail and older people, going unmet and so having no option but to turn to the NHS,” Wood explained.

“This is to the clear detriment of the patient, while at the same time actually costing more across the health and care system. Unless this trend is reversed by a long-term solution to social care funding being found, it will continue to have a negative impact on what our members are able to achieve for their patients and populations.”

The Nuffield Trust’s chief executive Nigel Edwards was equally unconvinced, calling today’s decisions “relatively small”. He pointed out that the announcements will only tackle around a quarter of the £1.9bn funding gap that social care will face next year, effectively delaying addressing the crisis further.

Richard Humphries, assistant director for policy for the King’s Fund, added that successive governments have ducked the challenge facing the sector, concluding that a new settlement for health and social care must be reached.

“This [announcement] once again underlines the need for fundamental reform to put social care on a sustainable footing for the future. A frank and open debate with the public, building on the work of the Barker Commission to deliver a new settlement for health and social care is long overdue,” Humphries said.

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