Councils have described today’s publishing of the NHS long-term plan without firm proposals for the future of adult social care and public health funding as a “missed opportunity”, warning the ambition to improve services could be jeopardised by the lack of money in the wider health system.
The plan includes a focus on prevention, early support and reducing health inequalities while promising to boost investment in primary, community and mental health services.
Councils have welcomed this focus, but say the government must address the huge funding gap in adult social care and reverse reductions in public health grants to meets its goal of improving population health.
Ian Hudspeth (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said aspects of the plan should complement social care and other preventative and support services provided by councils.
However, he added: “We feel this is a missed opportunity for the government to also launch its long-awaited adult social care green paper and proposals for the sustainable funding of these services.
“The current system of social care is unsustainable and will buckle under the weight of demand unless the government urgently invests in these essential services, which protect health, prevent sickness and are the surest way to reduce hospital admissions.”
David Williams (Con), health and social care spokesman for the County Councils Network, said he welcomed the plan’s pledge to change the emphasis from “reactive” acute care to community-based services.
“If today’s reforms are to be successful, then preventative services and adult social care need to be fully funded, whilst councils need to be given a clear role in integrating care services in their communities,” he added.
The president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Glen Garrod, also welcomed the plan as a chance to assess how the additional £20bn for the NHS will be used to improve the general health and wellbeing of communities, rather than relieve pressures on hospitals.
He added: “It is encouraging that the new plan recognises the importance of prevention. However, it is hard to see how this can be delivered with continuing cuts to public health budgets, where spending per person has fallen by nearly a quarter since 2015-16.
“The contribution that local government generally makes, for example in leisure and housing, to prevention needs to be recognised in this context.”
The plan also includes a pledge to roll-out integrated care systems across the country by 2021, while suggesting a stronger role for the NHS in commissioning sexual health services, health visitors, and school nurses which are currently the responsibility of councils.