Health Secretary urged to release critical funds as winter approaches

Published: Thursday, 21st September 2017

Council leaders across the West Midlands, including Birmingham, have written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling on NHS England to release funds for essential social care services ahead of winter.

The letter to Mr Hunt warns that there is a real risk of harm to vulnerable people as a result of funding being withheld.

Under the national Better Care Fund arrangements, councils should have received funding from NHS England to avoid service cuts to the most vulnerable people in their communities. Delays in NHS England approving local plans, however, mean that the funding transfer is still on hold almost halfway through the year.

There are growing concerns among local authorities that NHS England is seeking to withhold the funding entirely. Essential services such as home care for elderly people are at risk if this cash is not provided. The amount runs to more than £100 million in the West Midlands alone.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care at Birmingham City Council, said: “It is a shocking and intolerable situation that councils are being left without funding for essential services for our older and vulnerable residents. The public should know that we are now six months into the year and have still not received this core funding. Nor are we sure we will receive it at all.

“This funding is for services to help people get home from hospital safely, as well as essential residential and nursing care for the most vulnerable. Everybody knows how important these services are, because everyone knows someone vulnerable who relies on care from others. Councils across the West Midlands have written to Jeremy Hunt to ensure these shocking holdups to the funding are resolved. We know he wants health and social care to work closely together to prepare for winter, so we can only assume he is not aware of the actions of NHS England.

“Our request to Jeremy Hunt is a very simple one. We urgently need the funding promised to local councils to be confirmed and provided straight away. Next year, we need to receive it at the start of the year in the same way as for any other service.”

The letter highlights that councils would need to consider catastrophic cuts to the support of vulnerable people, if the funding continues to be withheld after October.

-ENDS-

Background notes:

Under the national Better Care Fund, councils and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are required to pool funding in order to protect the delivery of adult social care services, support NHS-commissioned out of hospital services, and support the market for provision of social care. The funding comes from NHS England, which releases it to CCGs and gives approval for elements of the money to be transferred to councils to support adult social care. NHS England does this on the basis of local plans, developed across health and social care, which have been agreed by the Health and Wellbeing Board, which is a committee of the council.

Guidance for the plans, to cover both the 2017/18 year and the 2018/19 year, was not issued until July 2017, with plans only submitted in early September. NHS England has refused to release any funding until after the plans have been through a national assurance process, which is not due to be completed until late October. In addition, NHS England has indicated funds will be withheld if local health and social care systems have not made sufficient progress in reducing the number of delayed discharges from hospital by November. As a consequence, councils are being expected to incur substantial costs without any certainty that these will be met from within the Better Care Fund. Should the funding (some £100m across the West Midlands alone, £30m in Birmingham) not be made available, councils will be forced to make urgent and dramatic reductions in spending, which can only have a catastrophic impact on the care people receive from the local health and social care system.