Social care services 'facing existential crisis', say council leaders

Rising costs, ageing population, staff recruitment difficulties and years of cuts have left service in crisis, LGA report claims

Councils will have to continue reducing at-home support for older people, according to the Local Government Association.


Social care services that support elderly and disabled people are facing “an existential crisis” despite being as important to national well being as the NHS, council leaders will claim on Wednesday.

Councils will have to continue reducing at-home support for older people and paying for beds in care homes because of Whitehall budget cuts, according to the Local Government Association.

Rising costs, the ageing population, difficulties recruiting staff and years of central government reducing its grant have left the service in crisis, the cross-party body claims in a new report.

Councils have had to provide less care at a time of growing need, leaving more vulnerable people isolated and at risk, it says.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, must recognise the “perilous” state social care is now in and ease the pressures on it when he delivers his autumn statement on 23 November, says the LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales.

“The situation is now critical and it is no exaggeration to say that our care and support system is in crisis,” said Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board and the Conservative leader of Warwickshire county council.

“For too long the service has too often been seen by decision-makers as an adjunct to the NHS, rather than a service of equal importance,” she added. Theresa May needed to deliver on her promise of building “a country that works for everyone” as prime minister to avoid the sector suffering even more damage, she said.

The LGA’s intervention comes after a host of NHS leaders, including the NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, made clear that if Hammond does produce more money in the autumn statement for the health service, it should go instead to prop up social care.

Richard Humphries, a social care expert at the King’s Fund, said: “It defies all sense and reason that social care spending will slip back to less than 1% of GDP by the end of the parliament when the number of older and disabled people is increasing and demand for services is rising. This is an unsustainable situation.”

The Care Quality Commission said last month that social care was approaching “a tipping point” meaning even fewer people would get care they need and the NHS would become even busier, unless ministers came up with some solutions.

“Bed blocking” stands at record levels and is costing hospitals £800m a year because mainly elderly patients who are fit to leave cannot be safely discharged because social care support is lacking.

A Department of Health spokeswoman defended the government’s record on social care, saying: “This government is committed to ensuring older people throughout the country get affordable and dignified care. That is why we are significantly increasing the amount of money local authorities have access to for social care, by up to £3.5bn by 2020.”  [But only if the Local Authorities raise an additional precept of up to 2% through Council Tax - which many are reluctant to do].


Four in five UK councils struggle to provide older people's care – survey

More than 6.4 million people aged 65 and over live in areas without enough care to meet demand – especially specialist dementia care, says research

The north-east was the only area where more than half of the local authorities surveyed reported sufficient care.

The Family and Childcare Trust surveyed councils across the country and found they are struggling to meet needs amid a background of growing demand, budget cuts and recruitment difficulties.

The survey is published on the same day as an undercover investigation by BBC Panorama is to be broadcast, exposing shocking neglect at two Cornwall care homes   [Panorama: Nursing Homes Undercover broadcast on BBC1 on Monday 21 November at 8.30pm] including vulnerable people being left unattended and a nurse saying she will use morphine to “shut up” a resident.

The deficit identified by the Family and Childcare Trust means more than 6.4 million people aged 65 and over are living in areas that do not have enough older people’s care to meet demand.

Only one in five councils reported having enough older people’s care in their area to meet demand, the survey found.

Just under half (48%) of the 182 councils (out of 211) that responded said they had sufficient availability of home care and a similar proportion (44%) reported having enough places in extra care homes, which allow people to live independently with 24-hour emergency or on-site support.

Only a third of local authorities said they have enough nursing homes with specialist support for dementia, which is predicted to affect one million people in the UK by 2025.

Claire Harding, head of research at the Family and Childcare Trust, which works closely with the government and local authorities, said: “It is inexcusable that vulnerable people are left unable to find the care that they need.

“We urge government to make sure there is enough care for everyone who needs it. In order to do this, we need robust data on where there are gaps in care, a funding system that truly meets the cost of providing care, and clear information for families.

“Without these steps, families will continue to struggle to find care and to meet the numerous care costs on their shoulders.”

The survey also highlighted large regional variations, with just 7% of outer London councils reporting enough older people’s care to meet demand. The only area where more than half of local authorities reported sufficient care was the north-east, where 57% responded positively.

The findings will add to the sense of crisis surrounding social care, with delayed transfers of care – when patients are medically fit to leave hospital but unable to be safely discharged – at record levels.

Council and NHS leaders, as well as the Care Quality Commission, have called for urgent action, with the chancellor, Philip Hammond, facing pressure to increase social funding in Wednesday’s autumn statement.

Inner London councils pay the highest rates for residential care for older people, at £649 a week per place, compared with the lowest rate of £464 in north-west England, according to the survey. The UK average for a residential place was revealed to be £27,113 a year.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “This government is committed to making sure older people throughout the country get affordable and dignified care. That is why we are significantly increasing the amount of money local authorities have access to for social care, by up to £3.5bn by 2020.”

Monday’s Panorama sees reporters go undercover at Clinton House in St Austell, and St Theresa’s, in Callington, near Plymouth, both owned by the Morleigh Group.

Hidden camera footage captured one resident left on a bed pan for 40 minutes and an out-of-date prescription supplement relabelled for use by another resident.

Clinton House is being closed as a result of safety concerns and St Theresa’s is under investigation by authorities along with two other Moreleigh Group homes.

Moreleigh Group said it had already removed the staff involved and reviewed its systems and procedures, prior to receiving information from Panorma. Cornwall council apologised for the failings.