‘Radical reform could stave off adult care cost explosion’

Radical reforms to adult social care could contain spending at close to present levels and reduce health and benefits expenditure, despite the impact of demographic pressures on care demand.

That was the message from a government-commissioned report published today by Birmingham University, which warned that the real costs of adult social care would double in the next two decades if the system remains unchanged.

The study was commissioned by the Department of Health and was cited in a key speech today by prime minister Gordon Brown on the government’s election platform for health and social care.

The report identified five key mechanisms for achieving reform. It said the use of strategic commissioning, collaboration between health and social care, greater personalisation, greater use of IT and the reduction of unfilled vacancies and use of agency staff would deliver vast savings.

Besides containing care costs, the report identified significant potential savings to areas of government outside social care. It said if integrated services were applied across the country they could reduce hospital admissions for people aged over 65 by 22% a year. Also, helping service users into paid employment had the potential to save up to £300m a year on benefit spending, while improving support for carers could generate £1500m a year.

The report’s lead author, Professor Jon Glasby, said: “In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that aspects of the adult social care system are fundamentally broken. This stems from the fact that we have a 1940s system that is now no longer fit for purpose.”

He added: “Radical reform of social care ought to focus on creating a system that is not only more efficient but that also provides better care and support.”

The report also said that greater transparency in the variations in the use of resources between areas was key to driving reform and that the regulators of the system had a duty to spread good practice. However, it said the government should not set out a path for reform but rather be clear about the desired outcomes and then hold local authorities and NHS trusts responsible for their delivery.

It is published amid significant concerns over the potential costs of the government’s plans to introduce free care at home for people with high needs through the current Personal Care at Home Bill.

The report also comes ahead of the government’s white paper on the future funding of adult social care – the follow-up to last year’s green paper on the subject – which health secretary Andy Burnham has said will be published “very soon”.

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