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Health bodies demand fix for social care crisis as elderly patients could face even longer waits

Patients will face even longer waits for hip and knee operations if ministers continue to ignore the social care crisis, health leaders warn today.

Fifteen medical bodies say that unless the system is urgently reformed, the NHS will be unable to provide ‘caring’ or ‘efficient’ services.

They are ‘gravely concerned’ about the ability of social care services to cope with a potential second wave of coronavirus in the winter.

The coalition – which includes the NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of GPs – explains that without a properly functioning care system, vulnerable patients will end up in A&E needlessly and then ‘stranded in hospital’, unable to go home.

Hospitals will be forced to cancel routine and non-urgent operations due to a lack of beds – including hip, knee, cataract and hernia surgery – and the Health Service will not have ‘any hope’ of ever clearing the growing waiting list, they warn.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the new Health for Care coalition also points out that the demands on the fragile social care system have intensified because of the pandemic.

Many patients are suffering debilitating long-term effects from Covid-19, including breathing difficulties, muscle weakness and extreme fatigue.

The NHS’s coronavirus backlog means there are now just over 50,500 patients who have been waiting at least a year for surgery or other treatment. This has risen from less than 2,000 in February.

Niall Dickson, of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and other healthcare service providers, said: ‘The NHS will not have any hope of clearing the backlog of routine operations unless there is a comprehensive and funded plan to support social care services through the winter. The scale of the challenge is enormous.’

The coalition’s intervention comes amid pressure on the Government for reform. 

Nearly 30,000 more care home residents died between January and June compared with the same period last year. 

About two thirds had coronavirus and the disease spread through homes after patients were discharged from hospitals without tests and staff were not given adequate protective equipment.

The rest are believed to have died from conditions that were not properly treated as many health services were suspended because of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson promised to fix the social care crisis ‘once and for all’ in July last year in his first speech as Prime Minister.

His pledge followed a Daily Mail campaign which exposed the injustice of how the families of dementia patients and those with other illnesses were forking out billions of pounds for care. 

The coalition’s letter says: ‘Failure to invest in and reform [social care] puts incredible and unnecessary pressure on our health services and puts at risk our efforts to create a caring and effective NHS.’

It urges the Government to sort out long-term funding, to extend the eligibility criteria to support many more patients, and to fix the workforce crisis.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are committed to bringing forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing… We have funded a care home support package worth £600million and made a further £3.7billion available to councils to address challenges caused by the pandemic.’   

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