The Scottish government has been urged to ensure social care does not suffer from its pledge to protect NHS spending from cuts over the next four years.
The Edinburgh administration has promised to pass on the real-terms increases to NHS spending promised by the UK government for 2011-15. But Scotland’s Independent Budget Review Panel, which published its report today, said this would mean substantial cuts of about 20% for other services, including social care.
It called on the Scottish government, which commissioned the study, to either review its NHS pledge or extend protection from cuts to a broader range of health-related services that support health and well-being, which could include social care.
Panel member Sir Neil McIntosh, a former council chief executive, said: “If there is to be protection of health, it should be interpreted as health in the community.”
“It’s not easy to say we are protecting one distinct service, when everybody else has to bear most of the cuts,” he added.
The panel’s advice has been backed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), which warned that protecting the NHS could lead to cuts more than doubling across other services.
President Pat Watters said: “Important areas of policy like discharge from hospital are dependent on having well-funded social care services. If local government is asked to make bigger cuts than the NHS, we could very easily see a return of the days of bed-blocking in hospitals.
“If we jointly agree that health (rather than the NHS) is a priority, it is an absolute imperative that this is considered in its widest sense, including acute social care provision and the essential health promoting services that local government provides.”
However, responding to the review panels’ report, Scottish finance secretary John Swinney, said it would maintain its pledge to protect NHS spending.
The debate mirrors that in England, where the coalition government has pledged to increase NHS spending in real terms during this parliament, which could entail cuts of up to 33% in social care, provoking calls for the pledge to be rescinded by Labour’s shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham.