Ministers have promised to publish plans to reform social care later this year

18 April 2012 Last updated at 07:54

Forget about ‘social care pot of gold’

By Nick Triggle Health correspondent, BBC News

There will be no “pot of gold” to answer the prayers of councils struggling to look after the elderly, according to social care chiefs.

Ministers have promised to reform the system amid signs local authorities are struggling to keep pace with demand.

But Sarah Pickup, the new president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said changes in England would still be years away.

Instead, she urged councils to look at new ways of providing services.

In an interview with the BBC, she said the key was to end the traditional assumption that long-term social care support was inevitable as people aged.

Mrs Pickup cited the success her council, Hertfordshire, had had in helping to avoid that spiral of decline by offering intensive, short-term support following problems such as broken hips and stroke.

The county has been running an enablement service for the past few years which offers the elderly six-week stints of rehabilitation.

The help provided by the team, which can provide access to everything from physiotherapy and telecare to befriending services, means half of its clients avoid the need for any long-term support.

She said there were plenty of other good examples across the country of similar schemes.

‘No wand waving’And she added that one consequence of the reforms of the NHS was that GPs would be working much more closely with councils, opening up the potential for plenty of good partnership work.

She acknowledged that such opportunities were not the “solution to the problem in its entirety” as the system was still under funded and in need of reform.

How Herts curbed demand for care

Offering rehabilitation to the most frail elderly people is nothing new. Many places offer some kind of help to those leaving hospital.

But it is the scale of the operation in Hertfordshire, which is provided free to all, that is really making the difference.

About 80% of older people who are discharged from hospital or referred to social services in the community are directed to the enablement service run by Goldsborough Home Care.

It offers patients six weeks of intensive support, giving them access to physiotherapists, dietitians, occupational therapists, telecare services and nursing teams.

But it is also about the day-to-day emotional support the team provide, allowing patients to rebuild their confidence and go on to live independent lives.

The results have been impressive. About half of the people who go through the programme do not then need on-going support form social care. Another fifth need less than they would have done.

But she added: “It does mean that we shouldn’t just sit around waiting for someone to wave a wand.

“No-one is going to wave a wand. Even if there is additional funding it is not going to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

And she warned any reform of the system was still a “way off”, pointing out any new funding arrangements would have to wait until the next Spending Review period which is three years away.

Her comments come as campaigners have been upping the pressure on government.

This week Age UK and the British Geriatrics Society released a joint briefing paper warning that the elderly were being “catastrophically let down”.

The two groups pointed out that councils had been increasingly cutting back on the services they provide so that there were now an estimated 800,000 people with care needs who were not getting any support.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, added: “Age UK and the British Geriatrics Society are seeing a generation of very vulnerable people whose health is suffering because they are not getting enough care at home.”

The Department of Health said it was looking to publish plans later this year that would improve the way care was provided and paid for.

At the moment social care is means tested so that only the poorest get it for free, meaning some people with the greatest needs face losing their homes to pay for support.

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