Warning of potential rise in legal actions as adult care funding gap bites

The number of cases in relation to adult care could rise with local authorities struggling to cope with a funding gap, it has been claimed.

According to a report on the BBC, Richard Humphries, assistant director of policy at the King's Fund health charity, said councils were struggling to meet their statutory duties under the Care Act. This included duties to promote well-being and provide high quality care to elderly and disabled people.

Humprhies highlighted rising numbers of complaints about care being made to the Local Government Ombudsman and a rise in the number being upheld as an indicator that more cases could be brought.

"That shows that councils are struggling. It is a warning sign. We could start seeing people taking legal action," he added.

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Earlier this week, Local Government Lawyer revealed in its Dispute Resolution 2016 supplement in association with Thomson Reuters that 78% of respondents to a survey of local authority legal departments were predicting a rise in adult care disputes. This was the highest percentage for any practice area.

Humphries’ comments came on the day the King’s Fund, together with fellow health charities the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust, published a briefing on the state of health and social care finances ahead of the Autumn Statement later this month.

The briefing concludes that cuts and rising demand will leave adult social care facing a £1.9bn funding gap next year.

The charities argued that despite mounting pressures on the NHS, finding money to plug this gap was the most urgent priority. The briefing calls for increases in social care funding planned for later in the parliament through the Better Care Fund, to be brought forward to next year.

Thousands more older and disabled people will otherwise be denied access to the care they need, with severe consequences for the NHS, they argued.

The briefing pointed to a 9% real terms cut in social care spending by local authorities between 2009/10 and 2014/15, which it said had led to 400,000 fewer people accessing social care.

The King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation also warned that the planned increase in the Department of Health's budget between 2015/16 and 2020/21 would not be enough to meet rising demand for services, maintain standards of NHS care and deliver the changes to services set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View.

Pressures on the NHS are expected to peak in 2018/19 and 2019/20, “when there is almost no planned growth in real terms funding”.

The King’s Fund’s Humphries said: “Cuts to social care funding are leaving older and disabled people reliant on an increasingly threadbare local authority safety net. For many, the care they get is based not on what they need but on what they can afford and where they live. More people are left stranded in hospital. This government has committed to creating a country which works for everyone, and they now need to match this with action by using the Autumn Statement to address the critical state of social care.”

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘'On too many occasions over the last few years the approach to funding for the NHS and care system has been to rob Peter to pay Paul. Social care cut to protect the NHS, budgets to train new doctors and nurses reduced to fund care now, capital budgets raided to meet day-to-day costs. It is absolutely clear that this is not sustainable and has undermined the drive to improve efficiency. While the pressures on the health service are very real, the case to prioritise social care funding in the Autumn Statement is compelling.”

John Appleby, director of research and chief economist at the Nuffield Trust, said: “After years of austerity, by the middle of this parliament we will start to see the amount of NHS money per person actually fall in real terms. In this context, providing high quality healthcare that meets the needs of a growing and ageing population will put the NHS under enormous pressure. We are likely to see this expressed through an explosion in waiting lists, patients being denied new drugs, or hospitals going even further into the red. These would neither be desirable for patients nor for the Government: action is needed."

Responding to the charities' briefing, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Councils, care providers, charities, the NHS and the public are all united more than ever around the need for central government to fully fund adult social care.

“Unless social care is properly funded, there is a real risk to the quality and safety of care, and being able to meet basic needs such as ensuring people are washed and dressed or helped out of bed.

“The Government must use the Autumn Statement to provide councils with the funding to ensure we have a fair care system which keeps people out of hospital and living independent, dignified lives at home and in the community.”

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