The government’s additional assessments of areas’ better care fund plans could undermine the £3.8bn programme by leaving them with too little time to make changes to services, councils have warned.

Senior figures in local government have raised concerns with the Department of Health that if local areas have to wait several months while their plans are subjected to an assurance process, they will not have sufficient time to implement service changes by April 2015 when the programme is due to start.

This could jeopardise the effectiveness of the plans, making it more difficult to achieve a reduction in demand for acute services in 2015-16, they have warned.

A senior figure close to the programme said there was a “big fear” in local government that a failure to reduce acute pressure could see funding given to councils to protect social care being used to plug a gap in NHS funding.  

The concern comes amid tougher scrutiny of better care fund plans by the government and the NHS, after concerns emerged in Whitehall and the health sector that too many of the final plans submitted by health and wellbeing boards last month did not include convincing data about how social care expenditure could reduce hospital activity.

A senior local government figure said that, although rigorous scrutiny was important, it should be carried out more quickly.

“In local government there’s a greater sense of urgency and anxiety,” the source said.

“Areas are supposed to be doing things now to make sure they are in a robust position by next April to start changing services. If they don’t start doing it until the autumn, they’ll lose most of the preparatory year.”

The source said it was “important that ministers and the NHS” were “confident about plans”, but warned that a protracted assurance system could “end up with a less good outcome than if you’d had a swift assurance and people could get on with delivering what they want to”.

A DH spokeswoman said: “We asked for the plans to be prepared a year early so we can make sure they will deliver better, joined-up care in good time to make this a reality. All plans are being finalised and every area will be supported by the government, NHS, LGA and local health and wellbeing boards to enable work to begin in full from April 2015 as planned.”