The amount of homecare purchased by English local authorities has exceeded the amount directly provided by them for the first time, according to analysts Laing and Buisson.

During a sample week in September last year, social services departments bought 1.35 million hours of homecare or home-help services from the independent sector, while their own teams provided 1.32 million hours.

Before the 1993 community care reforms, social services delivered 98 per cent of homecare.

Report author Philip Mickelborough said the trend would continue because commissioning services was more cost-effective.

The report found the number of homecare hours funded by social services rose last year, but the number of households receiving it dropped 5 per cent to 424,000.Laing and Buisson said this was because homecare was being 'refocused' on the most dependent clients, as the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act intended.

The report also noted that the type of care provided was shifting from domestic to personal care.