Plan to merge NHS and social care budgets
Published on 24 January 2013 11:30 AM
Labour is to put forward a radical proposal that could dramatically alter the care landscape across England.
The party wants to see the NHS and social care budgets in the country pulled together, creating a super pot to meet the demanding needs of the ageing population.
It claims the money, which is worth £119 billion this year, could be used to provide more joined up care across the hospital, mental health and care sectors.
If the proposal comes to fruition, it could see councils become much more involved in making decisions about the NHS.
In addition, the biggest hospitals may end up expanding into the community, perhaps even running care homes.
'Dangerous' gaps putting the vulnerable at risk
In a speech on Thursday to an audience of health professionals in London, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham will say the current arrangements are outdated and highlight 'dangerous' gaps between services that are putting the most vulnerable people at risk.
Mr Burnham will brand the proposal, which is being put out to consultation, as 'whole-person care'.
Commenting on recent cutbacks in social care, he will claim hospitals are at risk of becoming 'warehouses' for the older people, adding: 'We are paying for failure on a grand scale, allowing people to fail at home and drift into expensive hospital beds and from there into expensive care homes.'
Government sources are concerned clinical commissioning groups may be undermined by combining the NHS and social care budgets, and say implementing the proposal would mean taking power away from doctors and nurses.
In addition, it is unclear how the means testing of social care could be enforced in a combined system.
However, Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, claimed Mr Burnham is right to put forward radical changes to address long-term pressures facing the NHS.
He said: 'We urgently need an all-party debate about these issues, with radical solutions very much allowed.
'The NHS will judge the plans of all politicians on how they help the service tackle these massive problems.'
The care system needs 'fundamental change'
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General at Age UK, welcomed Mr Burnham's proposal of a more integrated system of health and care, and his recognition that a more holistic approach to public health issues would mean that some issues can be tackled before they become needs. Ms Mitchell also said that Age UK are pleased that there is cross-party support to join up health and social care on integration.
Ms Mitchell commented: 'A more compassionate and intelligent approach to caring for older people better must be a priority for us all. As we get older, our needs can become more complex and health needs tend to overlap with our care and support needs.
'Poor social care results all too often in additional burdens falling on the NHS budget due to the tragic consequences of older people struggling to cope. Recent research shows nearly a third of hospital beds are occupied by patients whose admission could have been avoided if there was better primary and community health provision.
'There is a real need for fundamental change about how this country organises care. At the moment, it is too often chaotic, confusing and unfair. Families undergoing difficult changes in their lives when their loved ones can no longer cope alone can find navigating the various labyrinthine systems distressing and exasperating.
'Good care makes good sense. If older people get good quality care at home it helps them remain independent for much longer, helps keep them out of hospital, and protects families from the pressures of caring.'
Copyright Press Association 2013