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Long-term vision and reform urgently needed for adult social care, says NAO

NAO

Short-term funding and the lack of a long-term vision has hampered planning, innovation and investment in adult social care, a new report has found.

The adult social care market in England report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said current accountability and oversight arrangements for adult social care were “ineffective”.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “The lack of a long-term vision for adult social care coupled with ineffective oversight of the system means people may not get the care that best supports them.

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“The Department of Health and Social Care has increased its focus on adult social care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to build on this to ensure that its long-awaited reforms deliver affordable, high quality and sustainable adult social care for the future.”

The NAO said the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) lacked a “clear strategy” for the sector and had not met previous commitments to tackle recruitment and retention challenges despite having committed to produce a workforce strategy in 2018.

In addition, the watchdog said uncertainty over future funding and policy meant providers were reluctant to invest in new accommodation.

The report highlights DHSC findings that most local authorities paid below the cost of care in 2019-20.

A lack of visibility of provider finances was also highlighted with many not financially resilient even before the pandemic.

While acknowledging government support during COVID had stabilised the market, the report highlighted that occupancy levels had fallen from 90% to 80% as of February 2021 meaning ongoing assistance may be required.

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, said: “The NAO report gives clear evidence that the social care system is fragile and in urgent need of reform.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of social care and the need to regard it as part of the national infrastructure. Care England, stands ready to support the Government in developing a new vision for social care, that is properly funded, understood, and respected by everyone.”

Stephen Chandler, ADASS Vice President, added: “This NAO report adds to the ever-growing body of evidence highlighting the increasingly perilous state of care markets, ongoing recruitment and retention challenges, and most importantly the impact on people including an increasing number of people with unmet needs. A situation that the onset of coronavirus has only served to intensify further.

“This is why ADASS, along with other key sector partners, has called for Government to commit to the publication of promised reform proposals prior to the summer Parliamentary recess, to end 25 years of inaction from successive governments and to fix social care once and for all.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Delivering a care system fit for the future is a top priority and we will bring forward proposals for social care reform later this year.

“We are providing councils with access to £1.5 billion in additional funding for social care in 2021-22, on top of a further package of support worth £3 billion to support local authorities and help address the additional pressures, including on adult social care, during the pandemic.

“We have just announced a further £341 million to support rigorous infection and prevention control measures and rapid testing to keep people safe as we start to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions.”

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The author Lee Peart

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