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There have been plenty of rumours recently that the government is planning to provide extra funding for social care in the upcoming budget - but we have been here before.
There is a danger that pressures become so acute, and calls for government action so relentless, that repeated conjecture and rumour blur the lines between hope and expectation; opinion and perceived fact.
However, a story today broken by Health Service Journal provides the clearest evidence to date that the government is at last set to provide genuinely new money for social care, in the form of short-term “stabilisation” funding.
But as the sector has come to expect, there is a catch.
Keen to assure the beancounters at the Treasury that the money will be spent on measurable improvements for service users and the NHS, the government is said to be looking to task the Care Quality Commission with monitoring council social care commissioning.
The United Kingdom Homecare Association described reports of CQC involvement as “encouraging”, adding providers had lobbied extensively for councils to be held to account for their influence on the sustainability of the care market, as the fees local authorities agree to pay have decreased.
But there is likely to be many in local government scratching their heads as to how the new arrangement will work in practice and rolling their eyes at a policy, if confirmed, that appears to fly in the face of the government’s previous commitment to giving councils more responsibility over their own finances.
While councils will welcome new funding to alleviate short-term financial pressures, they will be wondering whether the amount pledged will be enough to make a significant difference and will be concerned about what liabilities will emerge from a potentially complex, costly, and time-consuming arrangement.
Graeme McDonald, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said the costs of establishing a new system that guarantees the assurance the Treasury craves would ultimately fall on the taxpayer, when trusting councils to deliver improved social care in their areas would be a more cost-effective use of the funding.
The policy, as currently understood, would also see the CQC entering new territory as its current focus is firmly on service standards rather than the monitoring of financial arrangements.
One senior council source speculated that the new system is likely to be shaped by council self-assessments combined with levels of performance in local hospitals on delayed transfers of care, which would then prompt CQC inspections if requirements were not met.
Today’s news of action on social care, which has not been denied by the Treasury, will be met with relief by many.
But this is likely to be coupled with a sense of trepidation that funding will not get near the amount needed to stabilise the system and the new intervention could become more of a burden than a benefit.