UK government failing to track social care plans, spending watchdog finds

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The UK government is failing to co-ordinate and track the progress of its £1.7bn plan to improve the quality of England’s social care over the next decade, the independent public spending watchdog has found.

In a critical report, the National Audit Office on Friday said that more than £1bn of the budget had already been reallocated to deal with “other social care priorities”.

It added that just £729mn may now be spent between 2022 and 2025 on a care system that remains under “significant pressure”.

The government’s plan, published in December 2021, promised to boost staff skills and allow elderly and disabled people to remain independent for longer.

In its report, the NAO found the Department of Health and Social Care had not yet established “an overarching programme to co-ordinate its reforms, making it difficult to know if it is on track to achieve its objectives”.

Campaigners and health leaders have warned the sector is under massive strain and action is urgently needed to tackle the sector’s devastating workforce crisis.

A plan to limit the amount an individual in England would have to pay towards personal social care was last year put on hold for least two more years by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt.

The policy, which has been on the statute book since 2014, is judged by experts to be key to addressing the risk of an individual facing catastrophic care costs.

The government “still has a long way to go”, said Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, which scrutinises Whitehall expenditure.

“DHSC needs a long-term plan to deliver its vision. It must understand if it is on track and whether its activities are actually improving people’s lives,” she said.

The health department said the government “remained committed to reform”, adding it was investing up to £700mn “over this year and next to make major improvements to the adult social care system”.

Meanwhile waiting times for routine hospital treatment in England hit record levels in September, with more than a million patients waiting for more than one procedure, according to official figures released on Thursday.

Patients were waiting for almost 7.8mn appointments, up from 7.7mn in August, according to NHS England data.

The figures came as a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has pledged to cut waiting lists ahead of the next general election.

A wave of strikes across the NHS since December last year has added to the pressures the health service already faces over the winter months and led to the cancellation of about 1.2mn operations and appointments.

Hunt this week rejected calls for £1bn in extra funding for the NHS in England to help relieve pressures on hospitals heading into the winter months. Just £100mn of new money has so far been allocated by the Treasury.

NHS England appeared on Wednesday to signal a retreat from its ambition to focus on slashing the number of patients waiting for elective care. In a letter to hospital heads, it instead encouraged trusts to devote resources to “high priority” cases.

Professor Nicola Ranger, chief nurse at the Royal College of Nursing, warned on Thursday that the government had “lost control of NHS waiting times”.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said he was expecting “another challenging winter in the health service”.

The health department said the government remained committed to cutting waiting lists.

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