Action to tackle a financial crisis in social services could put further pressure on the NHS, which is already facing major bed blocking problems in the South East of England.

A survey by the Association of Directors of Social Services found English social services departments were facing an average 2.1 per cent mid-year overspend - an average of£1.45m.

Social services directors in 22 local authorities anticipated an overspend of more than 3 per cent, with one projecting a 7.5 per cent overspend.

A report on the survey warns that rectifying the problem will 'impact severely on children, the disabled and older people, or partners in closely related services - especially health'.

Reports of 'crisis conditions' at St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey last week prompted British Medical Association chair Dr Ian Bogle to warn that 'winter pressures' in the NHS were now a 'year-round phenomenon'.

An Ashford and St Peter's Hospital trust spokesperson said overcrowding in the accident and emergency department was made worse by having 42 beds blocked.

But she blamed a lack of nursing and residential home places, compounded by many homes 'being turned into luxury flats', rather than funding or poor social services response for the problem.

The government said last week that teams of 'change agents' were being set up to help the NHS and social services through the winter.

Health secretary Alan Milburn told the ADSS/Local Government Association annual conference last week that 'some local winter planning arrangements' were based on 'stronger joint working between health and social services' than others.

'Where social services are under financial pressure of course they should be receiving help from the local NHS, 'he said.

But speaking later to journalists, Mr Milburn denied this meant 'bailing out overspends or financial problems'.

Social services directors in 71 out of 150 English local authorities responded to the ADSS survey. Most felt that the current position was worse than last year, and would be worse next year.

While just over half the overspends were in children's services, 28 per cent came from services for elderly people and 20 per cent from learning difficulty services.

ADSS president Moira Gibb told HSJ she was 'worried' by the budget problems.' Cumulatively it is very significant. Every authority is going to have to look locally at what the solutions are.'

Ms Gibb said the reasons behind the overspends were 'complex'. One of the major factors was 'people living longer', increasing the amount needed to fund care packages.

Ms Gibb also blamed the knock-on effect from dealing with last winter's pressures. She said social services had been 'very effective' at getting people out of the hospital system' but this had left them with additional ongoing commitments.