Delays hit £3.8bn flagship policy on joined-up health and social care

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A £3.8bn project to pull together health and social care services has been delayed because Whitehall mandarins have said the plans are not credible enough, it has emerged.

The Better Care Fund, which will draw £1.8bn of funds from the NHS to support joined-up working between the two sectors, was supposed to have been launched last week but civil servants have questioned its viability.

Cabinet Office officials are concerned there is little or no detail about how the plans, aimed at keeping people out of hospital by providing high-quality care at home, will deliver the savings it is supposed to and have called for a “lot more work done on the policy”.

A report by charity the King’s Fund earlier this week warned a financial crisis in the health service is ‘’inevitable’’ and the pressure facing it has been ‘’exacerbated’’ by the introduction of the Better Care Fund.

The shake-up, due to come into force in April next year, would channel funding into schemes that see health and social care services, usually funded by local authorities, join forces.

Ministers want it to ease pressure on hospitals and help more patients, particularly older people with long-term health issues such as diabetes, to remain in their own homes.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Successive governments and health leaders have talked about joining up health and social care for decades – the Better Care Fund is a major step to making this a reality and transforming the way people are cared for closer to home.

“We have set aside time to make sure all areas have developed comprehensive plans for joined-up care. The Better Care plans start from April 2015, and we asked for early versions to be completed a year in advance so we could review them, check their level of ambition and 
test how they would be 
delivered. This is what is happening now.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: “Ministers have built up the Better Care Fund as the answer to the care crisis.

“We have warned that the plans won’t address the issues faced by older and disabled people.

“Too many people that need support to get up, get dressed and get out of the house do not get the care they need to do the basics.

“Chronic underfunding and year-on-year rationing of care have left the system on its knees.

“Earmarking NHS cash for care was a bold move to stimulate innovative ways of working. But for the Better Care Fund to live up to the billing, we need to see a commitment to serious, on-going investment and a strong focus on preventing people becoming isolated and slipping into crisis.”

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “Under this Government, health policy seems to lurch from one shambles to another.”