Adult social care services in the UK are being hampered by short-term funding and a lack of long-term vision from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), according to a major report out today.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said that current accountability and oversight arrangements for adult social care are “ineffective” and the DHSC “lacks visibility” of how effectively local authorities commission care and the outcomes achieved.
The watchdog’s main criticism of the DHSC is that short-term funding settlements have hampered long-term planning of social care.
It said this “uncertainty” has made it difficult for local authorities, facing significant financial pressures, to plan how much care they could purchase beyond the current financial year, “constraining much needed innovation and investment”.
However, the watchdog welcomed the department’s “increased focus” on adult social care in response to COVID-19; taking steps to increase its capacity and address data gaps.
In February, the DHSC published a white paper with proposals to improve the data it collects and its oversight of local authority delivery of social care.
The NAO urged the government to prioritise the setting out of a properly funded plan that would enable the provision of high-quality, sustainable social care for rapidly increasing numbers of vulnerable adults over the next few years.
Gareth Davies, head of NAO, said: “The lack of a long-term vision for adult social care coupled with ineffective oversight of the system means people may not get the care that best supports them.
“The Department of Health and Social Care has increased its focus on adult social care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to build on this to ensure that its long-awaited reforms deliver affordable, high quality and sustainable adult social care for the future.”
Commenting on the report, Stephen Chandler, vice president of ADASS, said: “This NAO report adds to the ever-growing body of evidence highlighting the increasingly perilous state of care markets, ongoing recruitment and retention challenges, and most importantly the impact on people including an increasing number of people with unmet needs. A situation that the onset of Coronavirus has only served to intensify further.
“This is why ADASS, along with other key sector partners, has called for government to commit to the publication of promised reform proposal prior to the summer parliamentary recess, to end 25 years of inaction from successive governments and to fix social care once and for all.”
Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, said: “The NAO report gives clear evidence that the social care system is fragile and in urgent need of reform.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of social care and the need to regard it as part of the national infrastructure. Care England, stands ready to support the Government in developing a new vision for social care, that is properly funded, understood, and respected by everyone.”
In response to the report, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Delivering a care system fit for the future is a top priority and we will bring forward proposals for social care reform later this year.
“We are providing councils with access to £1.5 billion in additional funding for social care in 2021-22, on top of a further package of support worth £3 billion to support local authorities and help address the additional pressures, including on adult social care, during the pandemic.
“We have just announced a further £341 million to support rigorous infection and prevention control measures and rapid testing to keep people safe as we start to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions.”