Care for elderly ‘close to collapse’ across UK as council funding runs out

Theresa May is under intense pressure from senior doctors and a powerful cross-party alliance of politicians to avert a collapse in care for the elderly, as shocking new figures show the system close to meltdown.

The medical profession, together with Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders in local government, have demanded a funding U-turn, warning that the safety of millions of elderly people is at risk because of an acute financial crisis completely overlooked in chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn statement.

New figures obtained by the Observer show that 77 of the 152 local authorities responsible for providing care for the elderly have seen at least one residential and nursing care provider close in the last six months, because cuts to council budgets meant there were insufficient funds to run adequate services.

In 48 councils, at least one company that provides care for the elderly in their own homes has ceased trading over the same period, placing councils under sudden and huge pressure to find alternative provision.

In addition, 59 councils have had to find new care arrangements after contracts were handed back by a provider who decided that they were unable to make ends meet on the money that councils were able to pay them.

The medical profession, council leaders and even the former Tory health secretary, Andrew Lansley, are appalled that the social care crisis – exacerbated by growing numbers of elderly people and the rising costs of paying staff – was not addressed in the autumn statement.

In a letter to the Observer, the leaders of the four main political groups in local government expressed their disquiet at the chancellor’s dismissing talk of a crisis despite calls from politicians, NHS leaders, doctors and others.

Andrew Lansley

Former Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley is among the critics. Photograph: David Jones/PA

“The fact the government appears to have chosen not to act will lower the quality of life for our elderly and vulnerable residents,” they said.

The cross-party group adds that, without an urgent injection of extra money to fund a £2.6bn funding gap, “the quality and safety of care of our elderly is at risk and the vulnerable will increasingly struggle to receive the help they need to meet basic needs such as washing, dressing or getting out of bed”.

They added that May cannot claim to be governing for everyone if she fails to act to help the elderly and most vulnerable: “The social care crisis is real and it is happening right now. The government cannot ignore it any longer if we are to truly have a society that works for everyone.”

Providers of social care say they have been squeezed by a combination of cuts to local authority funds provided by central government and their own rising costs, particularly as a result of the introduction of the national living wage.

Separately, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Clare Marx, told the Observer that the failure to provide adequate care in the home means elderly people are ending up stuck in hospitals, putting huge strain on their finances at a time when government is also demanding large efficiency savings. The logjam means operations for other patients have to be cancelled, causing further added bills to the NHS.

John McDonnell says autumn statement ‘offers no hope’

Marx said surgeons and other medical staff increasingly feel they are failing the elderly: “Cuts to local authorities’ social care budgets result in older people staying in hospital much longer than is necessary. Elderly patients, many of whom are living at home alone with little support, are regularly being admitted to A&E after falls or for acute infections. They then get stuck in hospitals because there is nowhere for them to go to continue their recovery.

“It is incredibly sad to see this happen, and we feel that we are failing our older people towards the end of their lives – when they deserve more dignity and greater support to stay in their own homes.

“Regrettably this has a knock-on effect for planned operations. I am hearing more and more regularly from colleagues who have had to cancel planned procedures because there aren’t enough beds free on wards to admit patients for their surgery. As a result the NHS is becoming increasingly inefficient. It is a vicious circle that won’t end until we properly resource social and community care.”

In the autumn statement debate, Hammond responded to Labour MPs who demanded action on social care by saying: “I know that it is tempting for opposition members to paint everything as a crisis or to talk of looming chaos, but that is not the case.”

He added: “We have created a better care fund that will be delivering £1.5bn a year into social care by the end of this parliament. We have allowed local authorities to raise a social care precept, which will be delivering another £2bn a year by the end of this parliament. That is £3.5bn a year of additional funding into the social care system.”

Council leaders say that Hammond’s claims are completely untrue and that the extra money councils can raise will not come close even to what is needed to meet the cost of introducing the national living wage (estimated to be at least £600m this year).

They also argue that wealthier areas, where more people can afford private care, will be better-placed because they collect more of their budgets through council tax and are less reliant on government funding. More deprived areas will be hit doubly hard because they will have to cope with the deep government funding cuts while being unable to raise as much to meet rising costs.