Use left-over NHS cash to pay for elderly care, say MPs

A cross-party group of MPs and peers is calling on the Government to allow money allocated to health but left unspent to be used for social care rather than being simply absorbed back into Treasury funds.

They calculate that less than half of the current annual NHS underspend would be enough to solve the immediate funding crisis in social care.

The call comes in a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Local Government, chaired by the Tory MP Heather Wheeler.

It comes in the week after the Government set out plans to overhaul care for the elderly.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, last week agreed to the principle of capping the cost of care - in line with recommendations from the landmark Dilnot report last year.

But he refused to commit more money to fund the system leading to accusations of “betrayal” from charities and politicians.

Figures supplied to the parliamentary committee from councils suggest that the cost of funding care for frail older people is rising by around 4.1 per cent a year because more people are reaching retirement age and because people are living longer overall.

But the pressure on local councils, who are responsible for care, are growing because of cuts to their funding from central Government.

In theory the combined effect would be a crippling 8. 5 per cent annual shortfall in funding for adult social care, the report estimates.

But because councils have already been making savings and cuts themselves, the funding gap stands at around 4.4 per cent – equivalent to £634 million per year, the report finds.

Because of the unpredictable nature of health, each year more money is allocated to the NHS than it ultimately needs. The remainder is then reabsorbed by the Government.

Recent research by the NHS think tank the Nuffield Trust and the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that the annual NHS underspend at £1.5 billion.

“The evidence submitted to this Inquiry suggests that if even the amount of money currently underspent within the NHS budget were to be re-allocated towards integrated preventative services, we would be able to close the care funding gap we have identified,” the report concludes.

It adds that if the money was then spent on preventative measures it could ultimately save the NHS even more money.

Previous research has estimated that preventative measures – ranging from installing handrails in older people’s homes to prevent falls to helping them get out and about more to improve mobility – could save the NHS £1.20 for every £1 spent.

The report does not come up with the solution to the separate question of how to fund the Dilnot proposals which would cost the taxpayer an estimated £1.7 billion a year if a cap on care costs was set at £35,000 per person.

Mrs Wheeler said: “We felt that although there needs to be a long term solution we have also found a short and medium term solution to close the funding gap and provide decent adult social care for our residents.

“This is an important reply to the White Paper and I hope the Government takes our proposals forward.”


Sourced from The Telegraph, 16th July 2012.