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Funding alone will not solve social care crisis, say health leaders

The government has announced a £600 million funding package to support the social care workforce, aiding recruitment and retention efforts and boosting capacity.

The government has announced a £600 million funding package to support the social care workforce, aiding recruitment and retention efforts and boosting capacity.

The package includes a £570 million workforce fund which will be given to local authorities as ‘flexible’ funding to allow them to tailor it to benefit local needs.

This could be by increasing the fees given to care providers, which will enable better pay for care workers, or reducing pressures on the health system by increasing the capacity of the social care sector ahead of winter.

The remaining £30 million will be given to local authorities in the most challenged health systems.

The government says this funding will build a stronger social care system that is better able to meet care needs, preventing unnecessary admissions to hospital and helping people to be discharged from hospital more quickly, cutting waiting times for A&E and ambulances.

However, while health leaders have welcomed the funding, they warn it will only go so far without a social care workforce plan.

“A comprehensive programme of reform is needed”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation said: “The money will help bridge some of those gaps in the social care workforce, helping reduce pressure both in hospitals and communities as well as improving care for patients.

“However, social care budgets have been below what is needed for a very long time and while this promised pot of funding is positive, there is still a desperate need for a long-term social care workforce plan, similar to the recently published NHS workforce plan.”

The NHS Confederation is now urging the government to publish this plan so that staff and patients “can feel supported in their communities for years to come.”

The Nuffield Trust has made similar calls, and says following years of neglect, funding alone is unlikely to meet “the depth of the problem”.

Nuffield Trust Fellow Camille Oung said: “Care workers are now facing soaring prices on the back of a decade of often poor pay and conditions. A comprehensive programme of reform is needed so that we have a stable, thriving workforce whose terms and conditions attract the growing numbers we need over the coming decades.”

However, there is hope that a workforce plan could be in the making, after the National Institute for Health and Care Research launched a new £10 million per year funding programme focused on social care research.

The research programme will collect information on the people at the heart of care, providing government and the sector with clear paths on how they can improve, expand and strengthen social care for people in need of care, carers, the social care workforce, and the public.

Does this funding mark the end of broader ambitions for social care?

The King’s Fund has welcomed the ‘flexible’ funding and the fact it can be spent on a fairly wide range of initiatives over a relatively long period of time.

“In particular, it’s good that local authorities haven’t been locked in to spending the money simply on improving hospital discharge when most of the demand they face for social care comes not from people in hospital beds but in the wider community,” said Simon Bottery, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund.

However, Bottery says that by using money originally earmarked for wider reform to help keep afloat the existing system, “the government is acknowledging the end of its broader ambitions for social care.”

“The need for reform will not go away though. If a new government wants to create a social care system that is fit for purpose, they will have to set out a genuine plan for change,” he said.

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