These are worrying times for service users, carers and families involved in social care; with the uncertainty over service provision, eligibility criteria, benefit cuts and future policy all causing stress. Now, care providers are adding to that by saying that services may get worse.
A survey published last week by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Fair care crisis? An independent survey of social care providers for the elderly, found that many care home and domiciliary care providers are worried about the effects of cutbacks on service users, and have warned that some have ‘unrealistic expectations’ of the services they receive and ought to revise their expectations downwards.
Providers said a key challenge is maintaining the quality of services against a background of rising costs and downward pressure on fees. Indeed, 80% worry that quality of care services will suffer due to cost reduction measures.
While it has to be remembered that these are the views of care providers, who are always going to say they need more money – the majority want a fair fees policy for local authority commissioners, for instance – this survey nonetheless highlights some of the current concerns among the sector.
Respondents also fear that smaller providers may go out of business because of cost pressures, which could lead to reduced choice for service users – so much for the increased choice and control promised by the personalisation, it seems.
OK, that’s the scary part over with. The survey also had some positive messages; 97% feel they are equipped to meet current or future challenges and 94% are already taking action to address market challenges.
Of those taking action, 83% are increasing skills and capacity – meaning better-trained staff – but 78% are controlling costs, which can be a double-edged sword, depending on where the cuts come.
This survey provides an interesting snapshot of the mood of social care providers. While there is optimism about meeting the future challenges, it is worrying that some say that service users should not expect so much of them.
While this may be realistic talk from providers – if you know how to do more with less please tell me – it does not augur well for service users; it seems they will face increased eligibility criteria, fewer services, less choice and less care.
The uncertainty in the sector is also not helping. The survey notes that 79% of providers want the government to outline its vision for the future of elderly social care, but they are likely to be disappointed. While there may be some measures outlined in the plans for the NHS today, for the definitive standpoint I imagine we will have to wait until the independent commission on the future of adult social care reports back sometime in the next year.
Only when policy is confirmed, along with budgets – we’ll find out what local authorities have to spend in October when the comprehensive spending review is announced – will providers be able to plan with certainty, and therefore give service users a better picture of what services will be provided – or not, as the case may be.
While PwC’s report closes on an optimistic note from a business point of view – many expect to cope with the future challenges and see opportunities in an expanding marketplace – I can’t help feeling that the outlook for service users, their families and carers is much more pessimistic.