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Care: Older People

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they intend to make to the findings of the Age UK report Care in Crisis on the impact of cuts to care for older people.

My Lords, social care is a priority for this Government, which is why we have allocated an extra £1.1 billion to councils this year to protect services. We are building on this by creating a £3.8 billion fund next year to join up NHS and social care services. Both health and social care need to work differently to respond to the needs of our ageing population, focusing on keeping people well and living independently for as long as possible.

I thank the Minister for his response. Age UK’s report found that social care cuts between 2010 and 2013 have resulted in 168,000 older people no longer receiving help with essential tasks such as eating, washing and getting dressed. The Nuffield Trust recently put the figure over four years at 250,000 people who have lost state funding support. In the light of today’s developments, can the Minister please comment on what is now happening to the Better Care Fund and when does he expect to update the House fully on why the launch of the fund has been delayed? The Minister knows that the fund basically uses resources already committed to shoring up the existing reduced level of services and that there is no new money in it. We now learn that the Cabinet Office says that the fund lacks financial credibility, in particular as to how on earth local hospitals are to save money to move care into the community in the current climate of substantial cuts. How does the Minister think progress can be made on the transfer to community care amidst the chaos and confusion into which this policy has now fallen?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that there is no chaos and confusion. As regards reduced numbers, which was where the noble Baroness started, the transformation in the service model that we are promoting focuses above all on prevention and is designed to enable people to live independently for longer, as I said earlier, so as to reduce the number of people who are dependent on formal care. Councils have told us that lower social care user numbers are partly due to the success of their core prevention work, but also due to increased use of re-ablement services for people who leave hospital to help them get back on their feet. As regards the Better Care Fund, there has been no delay there. We wanted to set aside enough time to make sure that all areas of the country have developed comprehensive plans for joined-up care. The better care plans start from April next year, as the noble Baroness is aware, and we have asked for early versions to be completed a year in advance so that we can review them, check their level of ambition and test how they will be delivered. That is what is happening now and we are broadly on track with the programme.

My Lords, people with autism spectrum disorder often spend much of their lives dependent on their parents, who are likely to die before them. In the light of the evident local authority distinction between critical and substantial eligibility thresholds, how will the Government ensure that people with autism are supported into old age by a social care system that helps those with moderate needs to live independently for as long as possible?

My Lords, the national eligibility threshold has been set at a level to reflect the most common current practice of local authorities. That will allow current practice in 98% of local authorities to continue as it does at present. The national minimum threshold will mean that people with autism, others who need care and carers will know what level of need is eligible for local authority care, no matter where they live in the country. I think most people welcome the element of the Care Bill that gave that certainty.

My Lords, one of the objectives of the Better Care Fund is to reduce demand on the NHS by improving preventive social care. Local authorities have sought to put more money into the Better Care Fund than the Government originally asked them to. Can the Minister say what the NHS’s response to the Better Care Fund proposals has been?

The short answer to my noble friend is that it is too soon to say as the plans are currently in formation. However, the whole idea of the Better Care Fund is to enable joint working. It is an opportunity to make the best use of available resources and improve value for money through the collaborative redesign of existing services. The pay for performance element of the fund should incentivise local areas to make efficiencies and will provide initial evidence of the impact of the Better Care Fund on savings and outcomes.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Royal College of Psychiatrists carried out a recent survey which found that 11% of NHS trusts had cut specialist psychiatric teams that specialise in working with older people. A similar number of trusts are planning to disband their specialist psychiatric teams across the country. That is having a huge impact on older people who have to go all around the country for a specialist service. What assessment have the Government made in respect of those cuts?

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, specialised services are the responsibility of NHS England. We have charged it in the mandate and through regulations to make sure that there is comprehensive specialised cover for mental health services and other services throughout the country. For less specialised services, we expect the parity of esteem principle to apply, and CCGs are being held to account by NHS England to achieve that.

My Lords, what is the Minister’s response to the recent Nuffield Trust report, which warns that the Government are now “flying blind” in planning services for vulnerable older people because there is no way of assessing the true impact that social care cuts are having on their lives? Does he agree that the recent abolition of the Independent Living Fund, with no ring-fencing of the transferred resources, will only exacerbate the social care crisis?

My Lords, the Government are not flying blind on this issue. Social care has remained a priority for us, which is why in every year since 2011 we have invested significantly from the NHS into social care, and with a health benefit, as I mentioned earlier. That has enabled councils to give relative protection to social care in implementing their savings. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but the figures are very clear. Spending on adult social care services has been protected to a much greater degree than other service areas. One cannot expect them to be wholly protected. Local authorities have reduced spending on other services by a good deal more than they have on adult social care services.

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that the real crisis in care for older people is the closure of many beds within local communities, which forces hospitals such as my own, Barnet and Chase Farm, to hold on to those people when they should not be in a hospital? They do not need medical treatment and are very vulnerable to hospital diseases. That is where the real crisis is. Barnet and Enfield is closing beds inside care homes, which affects not only the length of stay but the impact we have on older people, which bothers us greatly.

My Lords, that kind of issue should be absolutely central to the planning that the health and well-being boards undertake, with both the NHS and social services working together to ensure that there are enough beds from year to year. It is difficult to make generalisations about this. The noble Baroness mentioned her own area, which she knows very well. I am concerned to hear that Barnet and Enfield is straining in that sense, but, if she would like to speak to me about this, I am of course ready to see her.