The County Councils Network (CCN), which represents all of England’s county councils and 10 county unitaries, has written to Jeremy Hunt to urge the Department of Health (DH) to urgently reconsider proposals which suggest that the social care funding from the Spring Budget will be withdrawn from these councils if they cannot hit so-called ‘bed blocking’ targets within a short timeframe.
Under new guidance produced by the DH last week, county authorities would have to reduce delayed discharges from hospitals on average by 43% within the next few months – double the target of London. Herefordshire has a target of a 69% reduction whilst Suffolk has a target of 67%, which county leaders have called ‘undeliverable’ and ‘arbitrary’.
The situation is further exacerbated by the pressure rural councils face in delivering social care: they contain the largest and fastest growing elderly populations, yet are the lowest funded councils for social care services. In total, the 37 county authorities receive £2bn less funding for health and social care than other parts of the country.
The DH’s policy could lead to perverse behaviours whereby councils that have little realistic chance of hitting the target set for this winter may have no choice but to reduce care packages for fear of a proportion of funding being taken back off them in 2018/19.
As a consequence, much-need investment into the health and social care system, which could help reduce delayed-days in the long-term, may not reach frontline services.
CCN analysis shows that there is no quick fix to the issue of delayed discharges – only one third of them nationally are attributable to social care.
The network is calling for a rethink over the policy.
CCN wants to work with government on long-lasting reform to social care that makes the system work better. County authorities, who spend 47% of the nation’s total expenditure on social care, stand ready to work with the government on long-term solutions to better integrate services.
However, the network argues the social care funding crisis will only be solved if funding discrepancies between rural and urban councils are resolved in tandem with a long-term sustainable funding settlement for all councils.
Cllr Colin Noble, CCN Health & Social Care Spokesman and Leader of Suffolk County Council said:
“There was a clear rationale to the government making £2bn available for social care – it was nationally accepted services were at breaking point and the Government rightly listened.
“However, these targets are a backwards step. It is perverse that this money – designed to ease pressures – could be taken away if we cannot hit virtually undeliverable and arbitrary targets within a very short time period.
“Counties are the lowest funded councils for social care – they need a sustainable solution, not this double whammy of underfunding and the prospect of funds being withdrawn. We are confident we can put together a compelling care for an urgent re-think on this by the government. If not, the elderly, vulnerable, and disabled people this money was supposed to support will be the ones who suffer.”
Notes to editor