Headlines: September 4th, 2014

An independent Commission established by The King’s Fund has called for a new settlement for health and social care to provide a simpler pathway through the current maze of entitlements.

The report of the Commission describes the way that health and social care are currently organised and funded as confusing, with perverse incentives and much distress for individuals and families.

The Commission, chaired by Dame Kate Barker, proposes a new approach that redesigns care around individual needs regardless of diagnosis, with a graduated increase in support as needs rise, particularly towards the end of life.

The Commission recommends moving to a single, ring-fenced budget for the NHS and social care, with a single commissioner for local services. Social care for those whose needs are currently defined as ‘critical’ should become free at the point of use. In the medium term, as the economy improves, free social care should be extended to those whose needs are currently defined as ‘substantial’. By 2025, some support should be provided to those whose needs are currently defined as ‘moderate’ but this should continue to be on a means-tested basis.

It also recommends integrating Attendance Allowance, the benefit paid to older people with care and support needs within the single budget for health and social care.

Although mounting funding pressures are being faced in both the NHS and social care, the commission’s report challenges politicians to look beyond the deficit and engage the public in a debate about future care and how it will be funded. The Commission calls on the government to plan on the assumption that public spending on health and social care combined will rise to between 11 and 12 per cent of GDP by 2025. These levels will be broadly comparable to current expenditure on health alone in many other countries.

A partnership model, in which the costs of social care will be shared between individual and the state, would be phased in over time to provide fairer, more consistent entitlements to social care. The move to make all care free for those with critical needs would end the confusing distinction between social care provided in residential care homes and NHS Continuing Healthcare, which is provided free of charge in nursing homes – a huge source of frustration under the current system.

Kate Barker, chair of the Commission said: ‘Our challenge was to look at the big and difficult questions about the kind of care system, and indeed what kind of society we wish for ourselves and our families. The prize, if this kind of change can be achieved, is huge – a more integrated service, a simpler path through it, more equal treatment for equal need, a better experience for people who need care and their families.

‘We have concluded, as others have before us, that our system is not fit to provide the kind of care we need and want. We propose radical change, greater than any since 1948, that would bring immense benefit to people who fall between the cracks between means-tested social care and a free NHS. This includes people at the end of life and those with dementia or other conditions where too often there is a conflict about who pays at the expense of what people need.

‘Our proposals would continue a system where costs are shared between the private individual and the state but with the taxpayer carrying a heavier load of that cost than at present. The cost of a more generous settlement, though large, can be afforded if phased in over time.’