Withdrawal of free elderly care ‘inevitable’ as spending cuts loom

Free care is likely to be denied to all but the elderly with the most critical needs as public spending cuts hit local authorities, according to the NHS Confederation.

In anticipation of the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review on Wednesday, the confederation has warned the country to prepare for a “significant withdrawal of support from some of the most vulnerable people in our society”. 

Already, 72% of councils only provide care for people with “substantial” or “critical” needs, up from 53% in 2005, with most elderly people expected to fund their own care.

At a long-term care seminar organised by the Association of British Insurers on Friday, Stephen Burke, chief executive of the charity Counsel and Care, said the care system was “in crisis and in danger of heading towards a melt-down”. The current commission developing recommendations for long-term care funding will not report until July 2011 and legislation is unlikely to be put in place until 2014.

Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive at the NHS Confederation, said that a reduction in the provision of free social care could have a knock-on effect on health services.

He said: “Some will present as emergencies in A&E departments and GP surgeries, others will find themselves trapped in hospital unable to get home, blocking the bed from someone else who badly needs it. Everybody loses: the users of services, those who care for them, the taxpayer and the NHS.  It’s a classic false economy.

“We desperately need decisions on the long-term funding of social care, but nothing is set to happen until we are well into this parliament.

“There is a strong case for an interim solution. Local and central government need to urgently work together to consider how we can all mitigate the impact of this spending squeeze on some of the most vulnerable people in society.”