Health secretary Thérèse Coffey’s plan to boost hospital discharge into the community with a £500m Adult Social Care Discharge Fund is only a short term solution according to social care experts.
Today, Thérèse Coffey announced ‘Our Plan for Patients’, her long awaited plan to tackle the monumental challenges facing the NHS ahead of this winter.
At the centre of this new strategy is a focus on patient’s experiences of primary care and a reinvigorated focus on social care, with Ms Coffey saying that she is ‘determined to be the champion of the patient and focus the NHS and social care on how best to deliver for them.’
However, the health secretary’s key policy of funding to ‘support discharge from hospital into the community and bolster the social care workforce’ has already come under fire from social care experts.
Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said that Our Plan for Patients ‘amounts to little more than tinkering at the edges’ despite containing some ‘sensible’ policies.
‘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,’ continued Mrs Warren.
‘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. Social care providers are carrying approximately 165,000 vacancies.
Low rates of pay for workers within social care is an ongoing issue that this plan may struggle to address, and rates of vacancies for nursing positions have reached all time highs.
Simon Bottery, a researcher at the King’s Fund and former director of policy at the older people’s charity Independent Age, recently found that nearly 400,000 care workers would be better paid in supermarkets.
Mr Bottery told Nursing in Practice that because this funding was short term it was unlikely to improve the base rate of pay for social care workers and nurses.
However, he added that although ‘it is good that Therese Coffey is at least talking about social care’ excessive focus on the issue of discharge may be problematic.
‘Social care faces a large backlog of people waiting to be assessed in the community, a mounting workforce crisis, serious worries about provider sustainability because of increasing inflation, and growing demand that is not being adequately matched with growing funding,’ said Mr Bottery.
‘These call for a far broader strategy than the one on display today.’
While the plan published today does claim that the Government will strengthen social care’s ‘ability to recruit and retain staff’ no detail has yet been provided on how this £500m pot will be spent and how much will ultimately be used to pay workers.
Professor Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum, a social care non-profit organisation, commented that alack of detail in the plan ‘makes it difficult to understand whether it will make the urgent and immediate impact that everyone receiving care and support, and working across the care sector needs’.
Adding that ‘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.’