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COMMENT - BED-BLOCKING FINES JUST RECYCLE RESOURCES

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In a bid to prove fining councils for bed-blocking is not intended to punish councils, health secretary Alan Milbur...
In a bid to prove fining councils for bed-blocking is not intended to punish councils, health secretary Alan Milburn reached into the NHS coffers and came up with a£300m donation to help councils meet their responsibilities.

But the move, considered charitable by some, raises more questions than answers about the credibility of the legislation going through Parliament that will bind councils to these new practices.

The Department of Health calculates£100m per year is the amount councils stand to lose in fines if they fail to improve services for the long term. This will be taken from the NHS to help councils, leaving the NHS to claim back the same money from councils in fines - a blatant recycling of resources with the danger of no real savings being made.

This bizarre exercise leaves the DoH open to accusations it is massaging figures to ensure that it meets its own waiting list targets.

It adds credence to the Local Government Association's assertion that the policy is 'fundamentally flawed and unworkable'.

While the DoH would argue the money is intended to help councils build capacity in the care sector, local government has long argued that it will take more than six months to build this capacity. It is expected bed-blocking fines will be effective in six months. If

Mr Milburn's intention is not to punish councils, he could have simply allocated this funding to social services' departments to improve care home capacity, without the negative incentives.

The line between the LGA and the Association of Directors of Social Services over this matter appears to be widening.

The ADSS has welcomed the move as a small victory for common sense. It says Mr Milburn has listened to its members' reservations. Under its new president David Behan, the ADSS believes it can continue to influence the debate and negotiate further adjustments. Under Mr Behan, a more conciliatory tone seems to be emerging.

But the LGA, under its new chair of the Social Affairs and Health Executive, Alison King (Con), is decidedly more robust. Ms King has called for the government to scrap the initiative and adequately fund social services departments.

But whether either will have a substantial influence in the DoH remains to be seen. Even if the policy is proven beyond doubt to be systematically flawed, it is unlikely Milburn will abandon it now. In the meantime, social services' departments will be left to deal with the repercussions.

LGC

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