NHS and social care budgets 'should merge'

An elderly woman's hand on  a stick Social care budgets have already been squeezed in the past few years

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Ministers have been told they must go further with their overhaul of social care in England by merging its budget with the NHS.

The government is currently pressing ahead with plans to introduce a cap of £72,000 on elderly care bills.

But the King's Fund said that on its own the policy was not enough to solve the growing problems.

Instead, it called for a joint budget to encourage the two systems to work together more closely.

The report is being published on the day the government's care bill gets its second reading in the House of Lords.

The legislation will pave the way for the introduction of a cap in 2016.

Ministers have also said pilots will start in September to foster greater integration between the NHS and social care on issues such as assessments and hospital discharge.

'Think boldly'

But the King's Fund wants to see a more radical approach.

Currently the NHS budget - at over £100bn a year - dwarfs the £16bn social care budget.

The King's Fund argued that by merging the two, each would be encouraged to look at the most cost-effective ways of spending money.

That could include investing more in basic support - which is often cut first when money is tight - to help keep people healthy and living independently.

The report pointed out that the current system means a growing number of people are excluded from social care, which can result in their conditions worsening and in need of more expensive NHS care further down the line.

Report author Richard Humphries said: "We must think boldly about removing the unhelpful fault lines which exist across health and social care spending.

"Instead of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' we need a more ambitious shift towards single-budget settlements."

The King's Fund recommendation mirrors a policy that is under consideration by Labour.

In January, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham argued the idea needed looking at because as people live longer their "needs become a blur of physical, mental and social".

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