The care and support minister has warned that the way the system used to care for the elderly will “collapse” unless changes are made.
Announcing a plan to integrate health and social care by 2018, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb described elderly care in the country as “dysfunctional” and “getting worse” as the population ages.
He said co-ordination between health and social care will lessen the number of people stuck in hospital beds and help elderly people.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) welcomed the planned reforms, saying front-line staff have spoken about the problems with health and social care for some time.
Speaking at an event organised by the King’s Fund think tank, Mr Lamb said: “This is a new challenge - people with chronic conditions living for more years. If we don’t adjust things for their needs, the system will collapse.
“At the moment disproportionately a large chunk of the NHS budget goes on old people and long-term illness. We can no longer afford to throw money at problems.
“It’s a dysfunctional system and as people get older, that system is getting worse. People don’t want health care or social care, they just want the best care,” Mr Lamb said.
“This is a vital step in creating a truly joined up system that puts people first. Mid Staffordshire reminds us hospitals under pressure can be a matter of life and death.
“We can’t afford to let this to continue. Powering on regardless isn’t an option. To do nothing is disastrous. The system will collapse in future years.”
Writing about the policy on the website Liberal Democrat Voice, Mr Lamb highlighted an existing example in his own constituency in Norfolk. North Elmham Medical Practice in Dereham had a team of mental health nurses, district nurses, GPs and social workers who met regularly to review patient care and treatment plans, he said.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “It is right to identify a lack of integration between health and social care as a major factor in increasing pressure on acute and emergency care. This echoes what frontline staff have been telling us.
“We would like to see clarification around community workforce planning and local funding. For social care to properly relieve some of the strain on acute services, a larger community workforce is required, and community nursing staff must play an important role.”
A Department of Health spokesman said that at present “inadequate co-ordination” between hospital and social care staff leads to some older patients facing “long waits” before being discharged.
He said other elderly people are discharged from hospital to homes that are not adapted to their needs - which leads to them deteriorating or falling and ending up back in A&E.
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