Social care is “most urgent” priority for autumn statement, say leading think tanksBMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i5999 (Published 08 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5999
The government should prioritise social care ahead of the NHS in its upcoming autumn statement, three leading UK think tanks have urged.
In a joint briefing paper published ahead of the government’s autumn statement on 23 November, the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund, and the Health Foundation said that the beleaguered social care sector faced a £1.9bn (€2.1bn; $2.4bn) funding gap next year through cuts and rising demand.1
Though acknowledging the substantial pressure on NHS budgets, the think tanks argued that plugging the social care gap was “the most urgent priority.”
They highlighted the 9% real terms cut in local authorities’ spending on social services between 2009-10 and 2014-15, which has led to 400 000 fewer people accessing social care and a 26% drop in the number of people aged over 65 accessing publicly funded social care.
The shortage of residential care and other community based services has created extra pressure on the NHS through increased delay in discharging patients from hospital, the think tanks argued.
The government should bring forward funding increases for social care planned for later in this parliament through the Better Care Fund or risk denying care to thousands more older and disabled people, with “severe consequences” for the NHS, they warned.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said, “While the pressures on the health service are very real, the case to prioritise social care funding in the autumn statement is compelling.”
The think tanks’ analysis also showed that health spending in England will increase by £4.2bn over the course of this parliament, an average rise of 1.1% a year in real terms. The report highlighted that this would represent an unprecedented decade of restricted funding for the NHS and would also be much lower than the £10bn increase in NHS funding cited by the government, a figure that has been contested by experts and MPs.2
The Nuffield Trust’s John Appleby predicted that the government would have little choice but to revisit its settlement for the NHS over the next couple of years if it wanted to avoid a deteriorating service.
Appleby said, “After years of austerity, by the middle of this parliament we will start to see the amount of NHS money per person actually fall in real terms. We are likely to see this expressed through an explosion in waiting lists, patients being denied new drugs, or hospitals going even further into the red. These would be desirable neither for patients nor the government: action is needed.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday 6 November,3 England’s health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, seemed to move away from the contentious £10bn figure and instead cited the £4bn more that the government had put in. Hunt also strongly hinted that he was pushing for additional funds for the NHS to be included in this year’s autumn statement.
He said, “The big question here is: does the NHS have enough money? And the answer to that is: we do need more resources.”