NHS leaders have warned the government not to saddle the health service with the costs of a long-term funding gap of £2 billion a year for social care.
A new report by the NHS Confederation says that while use of NHS funds to plug the shortfall now is a “necessary sticking plaster”, continued dipping into healthcare coffers would have a severe impact on patients.
The confederation, which represents all organisations that commission and provide NHS services, urged the Treasury to find funds for the “practical and credible” proposals of the Dilnot Commission, which outlined a blueprint for reform last year.
Under the commission’s proposals, the amount individuals would have to pay for social care before the state stepped in would be capped at £35,000.
However the recommendations would cost up to £2 billion a year to implement.
With the health service already striving to find “unprecedented” savings of up to £5 billion a year, the confederation said the health service could not foot the bill for this, and that the Treasury should find funds for it.
Jo Webber, the confederation’s deputy director of policy, said: “We support the short-term transfer of NHS funds to support local social care shortfalls in funding.
“But the health service cannot keep on picking up the pieces of a broken social care system.
“If it continues to do so it will buckle under the pressure. A policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul would be very short sighted.
“We need to address this issue now and transform models of care, or risk paying the price further down the line.”
Numbers of people requiring social care are expected to shoot up in coming years, with the population over 65 due to rise by 50 per cent over the next two decades.
The number of people with dementia is set to more than double by the middle of the 21st century, while the number of those who lived past the age of 90 rose by 21 per cent in the decade from 2001 to 2011.
The confederation’s report received the backing of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which agreed that an “already serious situation is bound to deteriorate over the coming years”.
But ADASS also said some transfer of NHS funds to social care could be justified if there was a “clear payback” for the health service.
ADASS president Sarah Pickup said: “If, for example, GPs in their new commissioning role can save money on acute hospital admissions by investing in lower level social care services, it is absolutely right that the system should be flexible enough to enable that to happen.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “This is not just about money, earlier this year we announced the most comprehensive reform of social care in over 60 years. These reforms are about transforming care and support to make the best use of the resources we have - by focusing on maintaining people’s independence and wellbeing, and by driving up quality through more choice, control and information.”