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Is it time to prepare for your own social care costs?

Last updated February 2017.

The UK’s social care system is facing a challenging future as an ageing population and budget constraints are taking their toll. To help tackle the situation, the Government announced in December that councils can raise council tax by 3% to put towards social care[1]. However, leading think tanks believe this still leaves a £1.9m shortfall for 2017 alone[2].

In addition, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that a failure to address the social care crisis could result in the NHS being unable to cope[3].

There are many situations where a patient is ready to be discharged from hospital but may still require specialist care once they leave, called a delayed transfer. In these scenarios, patients will be looking at a choice of:

  • Returning to their own or a relative’s home where some degree of help and home adaptions will almost certainly be required;
  • Moving into accommodation with a central resource (often called sheltered accommodation);
  • Moving into a care home.

The hospital should provide patients with a care plan[4] but there is often a delay whilst suitable care is arranged. Services available through the state can be limited as payment for care homes and home support is means-tested[5], meaning many patients or their families have to pick up the cost to get the care that they need.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA chair, stated that “when social care is on its knees, patients suffer delayed transfers, and the personal and financial cost is vast”.

According to the latest figures released by the NHS, December 2016 saw 6,191 patients being kept in hospital as a lack of adequate social care blocked their release[6]. Of this figure, 3,928 had acute conditions, meaning patients were receiving short-term treatment.

The figures represent an increase of 19% on the same period in 2015 where a total of 5,004 were being kept in hospital. In the case of older patients in England, the National Audit Office put the cost of unnecessary days in hospital at more than £800 million last year[7].

Health managers in 44 areas of England have been ordered to draw up strategies, setting out how they will reduce costs, change services and reduce care, following a record £2.45 billion NHS deficit for the past financial year[8].

Jonathan Long, CEO of National Friendly commented “It is deeply concerning to see so many patients’ release from hospital being delayed due to a lack of social care, a problem which is on a long-term rise. Unfortunately issues such as this are often not given consideration until people have to deal with it through their own illness or that of a relative. In addition, the amount of social care available can vary greatly depending on location. Therefore, people could really benefit by contacting their local authority to understand what is available and to look at alternative options sooner rather than later if they believe there could be a shortfall.”

[1] The Guardian (2016) 

[2] The Guardian (2017)

[3] The British Medical Association (2016)

[4] NHS (2016)

[5] BBC (2017)

[6] NHS (2017)

[7] National Audit Office (2016)

[8] The Telegraph (2016)

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