Liz Truss plan to divert NHS billions to social care like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’

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Liz Truss’s pledge to divert billions of pounds earmarked for the NHS into social care is equivalent to “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, health experts have said.

The foreign secretary told a Tory leadership hustings in Birmingham that too much money from the annual £13bn package committed to tackling Covid backlogs was going into the NHS.

“I would spend that money in social care,” she said. “Quite a lot has gone to the NHS. I would give it to local authorities. We have people in beds in the NHS who would be better off in social care. So put that money into social care.”

Health groups welcomed Ms Truss’s recognition that the social care sector is underfunded and failing to provide appropriate care for patients, but warned against further cutting “already squeezed NHS budgets”.

Tim Gardner, a senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, a healthcare charity, said that further investment “would ease some of the challenges in social care”, adding that the “NHS and social care are inextricably linked and having both working well together can help keep people well and reduce demand on the health service”.

However, he warned, “diverting the money intended to help address the NHS backlog into social care would be robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

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He added: “While increased funding for social care would help free up beds and relieve pressure on A&E and ambulance services, this does not save the health service money and there would be consequences for patients waiting for hospital treatment and on staff morale.

“Rising inflation and government’s unwillingness to provide extra funding for recently announced staff pay increases have put even more pressure on already squeezed NHS budgets.”

Analysis from the Health Foundation shows that, on top of existing funding plans, an additional £9bn a year by 2024-25 is required to meet the needs of an ageing population, improve access to care and enable local authorities to pay care providers more to improve the quality of care and increase pay.

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, a health think tank, said that the health and care levy was always designed to raise funds for both the NHS and social care, with the bulk of initial funding directed to the health service, later shifting towards the social care sector.

“A sustained lack of funding has left England with a social care system that is failing many of the people who rely on it,” he said.

“Liz Truss’s comments are a welcome recognition that the lack of social care capacity has a knock-on impact on other health and care services, but it’s hard to see how the NHS could have this funding removed without it impacting the standards of care patients receive.

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“The unfortunate reality for whoever takes over as prime minister is that robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a sustainable solution to the health and care crisis.”

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, a health charity, said that the care social sector was “in a terrible state” and required more funding.

However, he said, “funding for social care needs to come from a sustainable source of revenue: getting it by suddenly cutting back the NHS is not the answer”.

A senior NHS source from a London trust said it was the “only financial proposal from Truss that isn’t barking mad”.

He added: “It would need to be modelled, but a properly resourced social care service could enable a faster adoption pace for virtual wards and significant admission avoidance through proper reablement.

“It would take time to build up capacity in the care sector to deliver these benefits, but if properly phased it might not have a dramatic impact upon elective recovery.”

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