The health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is warning that patient safety is at risk because of funding cuts that threaten the provision of social care across the UK.
The Government's spending review will shortly fix each department's budgets for the period from 2016 to 2020. While the Government has already committed to protect NHS budgets, there will be cuts to local authority budgets and social care services are no longer protected. This comes on top of the increase in the minimum wage, for which no additional provision has been made to date and which represents a significant cost to the care industry.
The CQC has now voiced concerns that the quality of care is threatened, with two in five care homes already below standard. Its recent State of Care report concluded that a third of all care homes need improvement and 7% are inadequate.
Care England's chief executive has described that this is only the start of "a really serious problem" for the care industry. Government financial constraints are a major factor but he also raised concern that the CQC is not set up to monitor either the commissioning of care services by local authorities or the fees being charged. As a result, there is a lack of clarity over the amounts local authorities need to fund a satisfactory level of care.
Britain's largest care home group has already warned that it will inevitably have to close or sell some of its care homes, suggesting that a quarter already run at a financial loss.
Commenting on the news, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team explains: "In recent years, social care has been the subject of numerous, high profile scandals over the shocking mistreatment of vulnerable people in homes. The CQC has the power to close care homes which fail to meet minimum standards but, with 40% of all homes falling short, there are no real alternatives for re-housing those currently in sub-standard care.
"The Health Secretary has repeatedly described a need for fully integrated health and social care to relieve the pressure on the NHS by delivering more effective community-based care. While NHS budgets may be protected as part of the current spending review, they will be under ever-increasing pressure as patients rely on the NHS to plug gaps in the social care system. There is an urgent need to recognise the role and importance of effective social care and to fund it properly."