Care sector calls for much bolder plan suggesting £500m discharge fund ‘won’t touch the sides’

Groups have dubbed a new £500 million winter discharge fund as insufficient and said the Government must deliver a “much bigger and bolder plan” for social care.

Charities, social care providers and councils welcomed the cash injection but said it will not “touch the sides” of what the struggling sector needs.

The sum – to support the discharge of hospital patients into their own homes or community settings with the care and support they need – was announced by Health and Social Care Secretary Therese Coffey as part of a plan for patients.

She described it as a “down payment in the rebalancing of funding across health and social care as we develop our longer-term plans”.

Ms Coffey (pictured) also announced a £15 million fund to help recruit more care workers from abroad this year, acknowledging the country is experiencing a shortage of carers.

Groups expressed concern at a lack of a long-term plan for social care and warned the Government it should not be viewed purely as a means to release pressure on the NHS.

The charity Age UK said it fears the measures will not be enough.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “They certainly do not address the deep, underlying problems affecting the NHS and social care, chronic workforce shortages above all.

“As each day goes by the need for an ambitious, properly funded workforce plan across health and social care becomes ever more pressing.

“We wanted the Secretary of State to announce an immediate pay rise for care workers in her statement.

“Without it we remain concerned that care staff will continue to walk away, attracted by appreciably better terms and conditions in other sectors.”

She said a “much bigger and bolder plan for social care cannot come too soon”. She added: “The need is urgent and growing, the clock is ticking”.

The National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit care providers, said the “scant detail” in the plan makes it hard to know whether it will have the impact the sector needs.

Chief executive Vic Rayner said: “The talk is of prevention as a priority, yet the main actions and resource appear to focus squarely on hospital discharge.

“The government has to wake up to the massive challenge facing the social care workforce and outline a strategic workforce plan that addresses pay, terms and conditions in a meaningful way.

“Short term discharge funding will not undo systemic inequities those receiving and delivering care face day in day out.”

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, said the amount pledged “will not touch the sides”, and that the Government must act with boldness and address the issue of staff pay to solve recruitment struggles,

He said: “The Government has woefully underestimated the depth of the crisis in social care and announcing this £500 million as if it were the answer to our prayers is insulting.

“This is a sticking plaster put on a gaping wound by a doctor that doesn’t see how sick the patient is.”

Richard Kramer, chief executive of national disability charity Sense, said: “Whilst the £500 million funding to improve hospital discharge is positive, on its own it simply won’t improve social care for disabled people.

“What social care needs is a workforce strategy and the funding to deliver it.”

He said the Government should remember that social care is not in place to relieve pressures on the NHS but that both services “are equal partners”.

The King’s Fund said the announcement contains sensible measures but amounts to “little more than tinkering at the edges”.

Director of policy Sally Warren said: “The scale of the challenge requires bolder action.

“The reinstatement of a scheme to help patients off NHS wards and into social care will relieve some of the pressure on hospitals.

“But social care is much more than a release valve for NHS pressures. A short-term, short-notice pot of cash is not going to help social care services to address unmet need, improve quality of care, or recruit and retain more staff.”

Councillor Tim Oliver, chairman of the County Councils Network, said the £500 winter fund is a “step in the right direction”.

He continued: “But with councils facing £3.7 billion in inflationary costs this year and next, today’s announcement falls short of what is required.

“This funding will assist with hospital discharges, but will not address other issues within the care system, such as over 500,000 people on care waiting lists, chronic staff shortages with over 160,000 vacancies, and major concerns that the introduction of reforms next year could exacerbate these financial and workforce pressures.”

He added that he welcomed Ms Coffey’s description of the sum as a “down payment” and that the Government must specify how much extra the sector will get as soon as possible.

The Local Government Association said the funding will be significant but said councils and care providers “cannot continue relying on last-minute, short term allocations”.

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