The NHS is having to spend a lot more on hospital beds to meet rising demand from patients.
The government’s Health and Social Care Act of 2017 has brought in a £5bn “social care” fund that has been used to subsidise the cost of hospitals, but it has been criticised for a lack of transparency about the spending.
A leaked report, published by the health think-tank Chatham House, said the health service had been spending too little on health services, including for long-term care, in order to meet growing demand from the elderly.
“We have seen a rise in demand for social care, but at the same time we have seen pressures on services in other areas, especially in the area of nursing,” said Dr Nick Williams, the author of the report.
“This has meant that there has been a need to increase the number of social care beds in hospitals to cope with this.”
The NHS said it was “very grateful for the support of our partners in the private sector” in order for the new social care fund to be set up.
“While it has come at a time of increased demand, this funding is the first step to ensure that the NHS can meet this challenge in a sustainable way,” said a spokesperson for the NHS.
However, the report found that the health system was facing “significant and increasing pressure” from a changing population, with many elderly people increasingly living alone, and many unable to work.
In the past, the NHS had spent around 10% of its budget on social care.
“The NHS needs to ensure it can maintain its current level of investment in social care to meet the needs of this changing population,” the report said.
The health service has spent around £2bn on social services since 2010, but that figure is expected to fall by around £1bn next year, with an estimated £1.5bn spent on nursing homes.
“This has had an impact on the number and type of nursing homes that are operating, as well as the number being offered,” said Williams.
The report, entitled “Social Care Spending and the Health System”, said the NHS faced “significant, increasing pressure on the healthcare workforce, which is an increasingly complex and demanding job”.
“With an ageing population, the demand for long term care is expected at higher rates than at any time in the last 50 years,” it said.
“As demand for nursing homes increases, the need for social services to cope becomes more acute, and the NHS must respond to this by increasing the number or type of services provided in its hospitals.”
The report also highlighted the “slow but steady growth” of the NHS’s finances, which it said had been “saturated by over-generous spending” in recent years.
“We need to ensure we have enough money to support the NHS, but the NHS has not been able to do this,” it concluded.