The number of adults receiving council-funded care fell by 5% last year, it has been revealed, amid concerns about tightening eligibility criteria.
An annual report from the Care Quality Commission has found that 5% fewer people received council-funded care in 2009-10 than in 2008-9.
The commission acknowledged there was rising demand for care, given an ageing population.
Sector leaders have expressed concerns for several years about councils using eligibility criteria to restrict access to care.
Only three councils applied the highest eligibility threshold – critical – in 2009-10 and the CQC found that only three had plans to raise eligibility thresholds in 2010-11. But research from the Learning Disability Coalition published earlier this month showed 21% had raised eligibility criteria in 2010-11 or were consulting on plans to do so.
Andrew Cozens, strategic lead for adult social care at the Local Government Association, said the tightening of access to state-funded care had been a long-term trend. “It’s not an indication that people lost services, it’s that people haven’t entered the system,” he said.
He added it was likely that 2011-12 would see the biggest drops in the number of people receiving council-funded services, as government spending cuts bit.
“This fuels concern that the system is inadequately funded and requires reform,” said Richard Humphries, senior fellow at the King’s Fund. “All eyes will be on the government’s response to the commission on long-term care funding [when it reports later this year].”
The report found the number of registered places in social care services available increased during 2009-10 but the proportion of council-run services decreased. Only 11% of all care homes are now owned by local authorities.
The commission said there was a continued trend towards outsourcing that delivered services largely at lower cost. However, it also said that privately-run services were generally lower in quality than council or voluntary sector services.
The report also found:
● 80% of services meet safe practice targets, double that in 2003.
● 34% of councils are now rated as excellent up from 25% the previous year.
● Care for mental health patients on inpatient wards remains overcrowded and compromises people’s dignity.
● Safeguarding practice was identified as a strength in two-thirds of councils.
● The number of over-75s who had a repeated emergency admission to hospital increased, suggesting a lack of community support.
● Support for stroke survivors in the community is patchy.
The report concluded that the quality of services overall had risen. Only 1% of regulated services were judged poor in April 2010 compared with 3% two years earlier.