Directors fear for learning difficulty services as NHS spending fails to rise

Learning difficulties services could cost local authorities an extra £800m a year within the next five years if the government does not increase funding.

Councils’ ability to develop and sustain better services for people with learning difficulties will be “severely threatened” unless funds are found, according to a report commissioned by the Association of Directors of Social Services.

Valuing People policies and the growing demand for services from older people and children have added to pressures on councils. 

The report, published this week, says that while there has been a rapid increase in social services spending on learning difficulties, NHS spending has not risen.

And despite acknowledging the “serious financial pressures” on primary care trusts, it says that some PCTs have sought reductions in spending on people with learning difficulties.

“Such reductions are not justified given the increasing number of people who have complex needs and should be eligible for continuing health care funding,” it says.

Learning difficulties accounted for the most significant spending pressure in adult services in 2004-5, with increased pressure  predicted for 2005-6, the report finds.

It points to a rise in the number of children with severe and complex needs as one of the most important factors in demand for services, along with a rise in the number of older people using services because of increased life expectancy.

The number of people aged five to 14 with severe and complex needs more than doubled from 1981 to 2001, while there will be a 41 per cent increase in people with learning difficulties aged from 60 to 79 by 2011, according to figures cited in the report.

Spending pressures have increased because Valuing People policies and new regulations have led to the closure of long-stay hospitals and the modernisation of day services.

The report also says that councils “are not being fully compensated” for the loss of government funding for people formerly living in residential and nursing care homes, who until 2002 had preserved rights to a higher level of benefits.

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