The government must announce and implement a credible solution to address the long-term underfunding of adult social care by the end of 2018, MPs have said.
A green paper from the Department of Health and Social Care, expected in summer, also risks underestimating the challenges in resolving the crisis, particularly in retaining underpaid, poorly motivated staff after Brexit.
In a report released today, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found little evidence that the existing, lightly regulated private care market is helping to deliver care in an affordable manner.
The PAC found worrying evidence that care is being prioritised to people needing the most support and care packages for people with moderate needs, such as an older person at risk of falls or becoming malnourished, is taking longer.
This could become more costly in the long run if patients are hospitalised and need a hip operation from a bad fall, or develop more serious infections or disease because they’re not looking after their health.
Age UK has warned that 1.2 million older people in the UK have unmet social care needs.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said it was “astonishing” that the government still has no plan in place, adding that the underfunding of social care directly contributed to the crisis in the health service each winter.
One solution, proposed in a separate report also published today by the Nuffield Trusthealth policy think tank, is for the UK to implement a dedicated social care tax that is already used in Japan.
A third of the Japanese population is expected to be over the age of 65 by 2040 – part of these care needs is funded through a form of national insurance paid by all people over 40.
It makes use of care navigators to help those in need of care and their families develop their care plan and coordinate carers, and ensure services – including exercise classes – are available to all older people regardless of their need.
The report said the system, which aims to promote long-term good health, was in stark contrast to the short-term, budget driven approach in the UK.
As well as the need for swift action on future funding, the PAC report recommends that the government launches a major review of the care workforce, particularly how it will find suitable staff after Britain leaves the European Union and calling for a national campaign to promote the role.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said the low regard for care work in the UK was a “source of national shame”, adding: “The sector is scraping by and without an explicit, long-term plan backed by government it could soon be on its knees.
“Levels of unmet need are high and rising; short-term funding fixes are a road to nowhere and the ingrained issues that lead to high turnover in the workforce could be compounded by Brexit.
“We urge government to publish this year, and then implement, a credible long-term funding plan for care.”
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The significant pressures facing social care are a direct result of inadequate funding.
“This is having a knock-on effect in an already overstretched and underfunded NHS – when social care isn’t available, patients end up being unnecessarily sent to hospital and can experience delays in being discharged to appropriate social care settings.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know the social care system is under pressure – that’s why we’ve provided an extra £2bn funding to the sector and a further £150m for the next year, and will shortly outline the government’s plans to reform social care to ensure it is sustainable for the future.
“We are also working on a joint health and social care workforce strategy to ensure the system is able to meet the demands of our growing ageing population as well as looking at ways to promote social care as a career of choice and attract staff to the profession.”