Social care is about more than freeing up hospital space, councils warn

Local authorities have responded to the government’s framework on how the £2bn earmarked for adult social care over the next three years will be used, arguing that the money is a good step in the right direction but is by no means a long-term solution to the problems facing the sector.

The framework, released on Friday, set out the how plans for the integration of health and social care services would be implemented and laid out how funding, split into £1bn for next year followed by £674m and £337m for 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively, would be used.

Included in the government’s document were intentions to press forward with plans to integrate social care further through schemes such as progressing with the Better Care Fund.

The plan was announced on the same day that the Communities and Local Government Committee urged the government to get on with creating an ‘all options on the table’ Green Paper on social care as soon as possible. This was something that prompted council leaders to demand that they are given a central role on drawing up the Green Paper looking into long-term solutions to the social care crisis facing the UK.

The LGA has now responded to the government’s paper on integration and funding, saying that the funds made available by government were “vital” to keep care services open and allow councils to continue to offer vulnerable people support in the community.

But Cllr Linda Thomas, vice chair of the LGA’s Community and Wellbeing Board, warned: “Recent NHS England and NHS Improvement correspondence to NHS providers has encouraged local health colleagues to pursue ‘their share’ of the funding to free up capacity in NHS acute services, with an explicit reference to the £2bn representing 2,000 to 3,000 more hospital beds. This is unhelpful and misleading.

“The Policy framework for the Better Care Fund, including the additional funding for social care, reiterates what was announced in the Budget by clearly stating that the funds can be used to meet adult social care need more generally and to help stabilise the care market as well as on measures to support hospital discharge.

“Councils and NHS partners will continue to work together to ensure people are discharged from hospital promptly and safely when a hospital stay is necessary.”

Yet Cllr Thomas went on to argue that funds for social care could not be seen solely as a way of easing pressure on NHS services like hospitals.

“It is important to remember that social care is about much more than just freeing up hospital bed space,” she stated. “It is about providing care and support for people to enable them to live more independent, fulfilled lives, not just older people, but those with mental health conditions, learning and physical disabilities.

“Hospitals account for only one in five adult social care referrals, and so this new funding may best ease pressure on NHS and council services by being directed at addressing wider pressures, such as reversing planned cuts to adult social care provision, which would exacerbate pressure on local health services.”

The LGA board vice chair also emphasised the importance of further integration and co-operation between health and social care services at a local level.

“Local councils and their NHS partners know where the pressures are in their communities better than anyone else” she added. “It is important that CCGs now work closely with councils to ensure Health and Wellbeing Boards can quickly agree plans to spend the extra funding so that councils can get on with implementing the measures most needed in their area.”

Cllr Thomas concluded by restating the LGA’s argument that the £2bn could only seen as a starting point to the government drawing up a more sustainable long-term solution to the UK’s social care woes.  

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