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Government social care spending cuts ‘insane economics’, says Tory health chief

Government social care spending cuts ‘insane economics’, says Tory health chief

🕔11.Oct 2016

A former Tory cabinet minister has accused the Government of indulging in “insane economics” by starving councils of money for social care for elderly people.

Stephen Dorrell said NHS hospitals were full to bursting point with older patients who were sometimes trapped for months at a time in wards because local authority social services could not afford to provide sufficient community care or places in residential and nursing homes.

Mr Dorrell, a Health Secretary in the 1990s, said Theresa May could not claim to be supporting the NHS while denying local councils the money they required to meet the needs of a rapidly ageing population. He was due to set out his views in more detail when giving evidence to the health select committee today.

He accused the Government of “fetishising the NHS budget and imagining it’s the only public service that relates to health” and said Ministers were “fundamentally missing the point” by following a political imperative that claimed spending on hospitals must take priority over everything else.

By doing so the Government was forcing older people into hospital and “using the health service as a very expensive social care service, and then talking about efficiency”. Mr Dorrell added: “It is insane economics and very bad social policy.”

Mr Dorrell said:

We would deliver a more efficient NHS and better health if we spent the money on supporting people out of the health service rather than waiting for them to become ill.

Even NHS managers recognise they can’t do their job properly if social care is falling over.

Earlier this year Mr Dorrell was appointed to chair a new partnership to oversee budget sharing and co-operation between Birmingham and Solihull social services and the NHS.

A Birmingham and Solihull board will set the strategy for and drive a Sustainability and Transformation Plan, setting out how local government and the NHS can improve health and wellbeing outcomes for local people, drive up the quality of care, and improve financial efficiency.

Mr Dorrell’s comments reflect growing concerns by social services directors across the country. Councils, hit by record cuts in Government grant, were unable to deliver any real terms increase in spending on adult social care between 2004 and 2014. But over the same period, spending on the NHS leapt by about 25 per cent.

Councils have responded by cutting back on care packages, restricting help with tasks such as washing, dressing and mobility even to those with severe problems. As a result, thousands more older people end up facing lengthy periods in hospital following falls or other preventable incidents at home.

Peter Hay, Birmingham city council’s strategic director for people, has spoken of “a social care crisis being played out in this city”. Mr Hay told a scrutiny committee recently that the council’s own spending on social care was being severely squeezed at a time when private residential homes were closing and not being replaced.

He gave the example of an elderly person “who moves from something as simple as having fallen at home, into an ambulance, and into a high dependency ward”. Mr Hay added: “No wonder they are confused because they have come from a system where they don’t see many people in a day and suddenly they’ve seen 50 people in a few hours and they are in a place where the lights don’t go off at night and they don’t get out of bed”.

Bed blocking in NHS hospitals across the country, where beds are occupied unnecessarily because older patients cannot be transferred to residential care, rose by 25 per cent over the past year and is running at unprecedented levels with more than 180,000 nights lost a month to patients who lack the support to go home.

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