Ministers are stressing the importance of supporting care for older people as they prepare to release the NHS Operating Framework today.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said improving care for older people would be at the top of his list of priorities for 2012-13.
The commitment comes after a series of reports and investigations reporting serious failings in patient care. These included the Care Quality Commission’s study on dignity and nutrition last month, and this week’s report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which found care at home often breaches basic rights.
Full details of the framework, which sets out the strategic direction for the service for the next financial year, have not yet been published.
It has been widely rumoured that the document will set out new flexibilities to the tariff structure or a move towards block contracts to control costs. New measures to bring down the longest waiting times and changes to the penalties imposed on acute trusts for readmissions are also expected.
The operating framework will say that people caring for friends or relatives have not always received funding earmarked to support them, and pledge that they will get more help from the NHS and local authorities.
By September next year, NHS bodies must have plans in place to support carers and must publish these plans.
The NHS will have to identify and make public the amount of money it spends supporting carers and must transfer the funds to local authorities.
In a bid to put support for carers on a firmer footing the NHS will also have to set out the number of paid-for breaks that its funding could buy.
Mr Lansley said: “The NHS is taking on the challenge next year to make sure vulnerable people get the care they need.
“The NHS often delivers excellent care. But we’ve also seen some really shocking examples of vulnerable people being treated really badly by the NHS recently.
“This cannot go on – and the NHS knows something serious must be done to root out poor care.”
He called for improvements in dementia care, particularly in hospitals, and added: “We must look after carers too. Without them, the NHS would have an even bigger job to do.”
Ministers have said primary care, acute care and commissioners will become more integrated and ensure older patients only go to hospital if they would get better treatment than they would have done at home.
Everyone providing care for older people will have to meet quality requirements set out by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.