The£13bn social care sector needs a cash injection on 'at least the same' scale as that being put into the NHS - a growth of about 50 per cent in cash terms or onethird in real terms over five years, a King's Fund inquiry has found.

Immediate action is needed 'to avoid a catastrophe', the inquiry team says in a report on care and support services for adults, published this week.

King's Fund chief executive Rabbi Julia Neuberger warned that unless urgent action is taken on social care funding 'none of the government's ambitious plans for the NHS will be achieved'.

The inquiry, set up last year, found: 'It is an inescapable conclusion that the care sector, currently worth an estimated£13. 2bn, is under-resourced, and that unless this is addressed, aspirations for significantly raising quality will remain beyond reach. '

Health policy independent consultant Chris Vellenoweth, a member of the inquiry panel, said: 'Here is an enormous field of provision which spans health and social care. It does need a substantial injection of funds. Only by doing that will there be adequate recognition of the needs of those who receive care. '

The care sector faces the twin pressures of an ageing population and increasing workforce shortages, the inquiry found. It recognised that there had been some improvement in care, but that problems recruiting and keeping enthusiastic and committed staff are of 'enduring and apparently intensifying significance'.

The report calls for better pay and conditions and a series of measures to improve training.

The need to boost the image and status of the care and support sector and its staff are repeatedly emphasised.

Mr Vellenoweth told HSJ that providing crucial care services has not been seen as particularly valuable: 'It is no longer good enough to regard care and support workers as having the option to work in a supermarket. '

The inquiry also found that most current commissioning and contracting of care services was 'unsophisticated' and 'poorly related to outcomes'. The team favours closer integration between health and social care, but the report warns: 'There are risks in rushing ahead with untested models of care trusts. '

It recommends: 'The development of care trusts must be approached with caution, rather than driven through as an ideological objective. '

Future Imperfect? Report of the King's Fund care and support inquiry. www. kingsfund. org. uk