Government has no idea how social care cuts affect older people’s health, warns report

There is no data to evaluate impact on health of shutting out 250,000 older people from publicly-funded care from 2009-10 to 2012-13, warns QualityWatch

The NHS and the government are “flying blind” when planning services for older people because they are not measuring the impact of social care cuts on health and wellbeing, according to a report by QualityWatch.

An investigation by the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation partnership found real-terms spending on social services for the elderly in England plunged by 15% between 2009-10 and 2012-13, resulting in 245,855 fewer older people getting publicly funded care.

But QualityWatch warned that gaps in data gathering meant that neither the government or the NHS understood how cut backs in taxpayer-funded social care support was affecting the health of older people.

“It is highly likely that this is having a negative effect on older people’s health and wellbeing and that of their carers, but without adequate data to assess the impact, the NHS and government are flying blind when it comes to managing demand and planning for the future,” said Holly Holder, fellow in health policy at the Nuffield Trust.

QualityWatch’s report says that adult social services have saved money by raising the threshold for support, increasing the fees paid by service users, reducing payments to care providers and reorganising services.

It noted that in 2006-07 65% of local authorities only supported people with substantial or critical care needs but in 2012-13 this had risen to 85%.

While residential care for older people has seen a 13% real-terms drop in funding, equivalent to £330m, from 2009-10 to 2012-13, the bulk of the cut backs have hit community services.

Spending on home and day care services fell by £538m from 2009-10 to 2012-13, equal to a 23% real-terms cut.

The number of people being offered adaptations to their homes or being provided with equipment to help them live independently dropped by 28% in the same period, equivalent to 109,460 people.

QualityWatch noted that some of this reduction in community provision had been offset by greater use of direct payments but this only amounted to an injection of £90m in real-terms.

It noted that a third of women and a fifth of men over the age of 65 report having unmet care needs that affect their day to day lives.

The report said it was “imperative” that the government starts collecting data on the health and wellbeing of those who pay for their own care so that policy makers fully understand the levels of unmet need and how that increases pressure on the NHS.

Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said: “Across the English NHS A&E departments are creaking, in part because of rising demand for care from frail older people.

“Emergency hospital admissions have risen by almost a third in 10 years: many of these were preventable and many were short stay admissions for older people with multiple conditions. Good quality social care can help to prevent attendances in A&E.”

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