Interesting stuff from shadow health secretary Andy Burnham today, as reported in the Guardian, who claims that increasing NHS spending could adversely affect social care provision.
Burnham objects to the government’s commitment to increase NHS spending in real terms year on year; “If they persist with this councils will tighten their eligibility criteria even further for social care. There will be barely nothing left in some parts of the country, and individuals will be digging ever deeper into their own pockets for social care support,” the Guardian reports him as saying.
As a cynical journo, my instant reaction is this is just a way of scoring a few cheap political points before the emergency Budget next Tuesday. And it probably is – but he does make a couple of salient points nevertheless.
It has struck me as odd that the only department with a guarantee of an increase in spending – amid swingeing cuts for everyone else – is health, especially at a time when the NHS is performing relatively well – if you take meeting the majority of targets as ‘well’. It smacked of a sop to the electorate – increasing health spending is always a vote winner.
Also, while there is nothing to say that the increase in NHS spending will come from the social care budget, there is nevertheless an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul with the Conservative commitment too – its reasonable to assume that increases in one department will mean that others gets cut. There are no spending commitments for social care (that I know of), so cuts in this area would seem inevitable.
Burnham also notes that putting the NHS in a stronger financial position to social care would make joint working – the current prevailing trend – harder to achieve.
Also, cutting social care could increase the burden on the NHS if more people end up in hospital due to falls etc due to struggling without care services they need because they cannot afford them. They could stay there longer if there is not the social care provision – meals on wheels, housing, care services etc – to support them in the community on release.
But whatever happens in next week’s Budget, it would seem the future for social care is an austere one; at a local level, there are already news stories of cutbacks in services, or charges for them increasing. To pick one example at random, here is a story from the online version of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo about county council proposals – currently out to public consultation – to raise £600,000 by increasing the cost of social care services.
Northampton County Council justifies this plan by saying that without the increase in charges, services would have to be cut.
This is a situation repeated across the country. It would seem that social care providers and service users are going to have to do more with less. How the government – and local authorities – will deal with this will be interesting to see. All should become clear in the coming weeks.