Part of clinical commissioning groups’ budgets – potentially worth more than £1bn – should be used to fund integration with council-run social care services, Norman Lamb has told HSJ.

In an exclusive interview, the care services minister said that, as part of preparation for next month’s comprehensive spending review, the Department of Health was considering the future use of the 2 per cent of CCGs’ budgets which they are required to “ringfence” from routine spending.

The policy could result in increased NHS funds effectively being spent on social care, which is normally paid for by local authorities.

Mr Lamb’s comments to HSJ follow media speculation that the spending review will be used to pass more NHS funding to social care.

He said he wanted to “free up resources to provide additional assistance to areas that are on a rapid route to a much more integrated approach”.

CCGs are this year required to “ringfence” 2 per cent of their budget – amounting to £1.3bn nationally – and spend it “only following appropriate approval” by NHS England’s local area teams. A similar policy has been applied in the past to primary care trusts.

Mr Lamb criticised past use of the funds as a “sticking plaster” over problems, and said instead it should be used “to try and change the way we behave”.

He could not give an exact figure for the sum which should be made available for integration with social care. Although it is being considered as part of the comprehensive spending review – which will cover 2015-16 – Mr Lamb hopes the policy could begin next financial year.

HSJ asked Mr Lamb about the prospect of the 2 per cent CCG topslice being used to plug holes in council social care budgets. He said: “This is work in progress – we’re looking at how we can free up resources to facilitate [integrated working].

“The objective absolutely will be that money needs to be spent in a way that facilitates a transformation and improvement of care rather than sort of propping up a dysfunctional system.”

The funds would still be held by NHS England and CCGs, Mr Lamb admitted, meaning ministers may not be able to direct how it is used. It is also unclear how much would be used for areas traditionally funded by health, and how much on social care.

The issue is being discussed by the DH and NHS England.

Mr Lamb told HSJ the DH would also continue to spend at least £1bn on social care in the 2015-16. The department has spent an increasing sum on social care since 2010-11, reaching £1bn in 2014-15, as set out in the previous spending review.  

Mr Lamb said next month’s spending review could put in place a stronger obligation for this to be used to integrate local health and care systems, or to fund service change such as developing preventative care or improving transfers.

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Norman Lamb will be speaking at the Commissioning show at the Excel in London on 12-13 June. For more information and a full list of speakers visit the event website.