UK Lords urge integration of health and social care to cope with ageing population

By on 06/04/2017
Committee Chairman, Lord Patel

A proposed new department to integrate bringing together health and adult social care is the centrepiece of a report by the UK’s House of Lords on the future sustainability of the country’s National Health Service.

As populations around the world grow proportionally older, health and social care integration is rising up the policy agenda as a means of more effectively marshalling stretched budgets for the two interrelated areas.

In the UK, the government recently increased social care spending by £2 billion over the next three years, but a report today from the House of Lords’ select committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS criticised successive governments for failing to plan effectively for the long-term future of the health and adult social care services.

“There is a shocking lack of long-term strategic planning in the NHS,” said Lord Patel, the obstetrician and cross-bench peer who chairs the committee. “This short sightedness stems from the political importance of the NHS and the temptation for politicians to reach for short-term fixes not long-term solutions.”

The committee said health and social care systems were inter-dependent but poorly coordinated. To allow money and resources to be used more effectively, it recommended that the budgetary responsibility for adult social care at a national level should be transferred to a new ‘Department of Health and Care’.

“We have heard much about the need to integrate health and social care and we think the best way to do that is make the Department of Health responsible for both health and adult social care budgets,” Lord Patel said.

The new department would be backed up by ring-fenced funding for 10 years and a new independent body charged with mapping out the UK’s long-term health and social care needs. This would follow a similar model to the Office of Budget Responsibility, which provides independent economic and fiscal analysis of the UK’s public finances.

“We need a new body that is independent of government and is able to identify [clearly] the healthcare needs of a changing and ageing population and the staffing and funding the NHS will require to meet those needs,” Lord Patel said.

“This new Office for Health and Care Sustainability should be a trusted, independent voice as the Office for Budget Responsibility has become on economic forecasting and on public finance matters. It will need to look ahead and plan for 15-20 years into the future.”

Health think-tank the Kings Fund said the report was a “wake-up call” to politicians to get to grips with the issue of funding health and social care.

“Bringing together spending on the NHS and social care into a single spending review settlement would simplify departmental responsibilities and act as a further catalyst to integrate care,” said chief executive Chris Hamm.

A Department of Health spokesman said the government would respond to the committee’s report in due course, adding: “We are totally committed to an NHS, free at the point of use, providing world-class care – and we agree that means taking decisions to ensure the sustainability of the service in future.

“That’s why we are already expanding the number of medical training places by 25% to ensure we have all the doctors we need, investing in social care and working on a long-term funding solution in a green paper, and putting £325 million into local transformation plans to improve services, with more to follow in the autumn.”

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

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