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A total of £600million has been allocated by the government to retain and hire additional social workers in England as ministers attempt to bolster public services ahead of what is expected to be one of the NHS’ toughest winters.
The Department of Health and Social Care said on Friday the sum included a labor fund of £570m spread over two years and distributed to local authorities, and £30m for areas where health systems are the most “difficult”.
Campaigners and health officials have welcomed the decision to announce the extra money at the start of the year in July, guarantee it for two years and give local authorities flexibility over spending.
However, they warned that the sector, where around one in 10 positions are currently vacant, remains under massive pressure and urgently needs wider reform.
Alongside reforms announced earlier this year to improve the status and training of social care staff, and an NHS workforce plan unveiled in June, they would “build a stronger overall base for the workforce health and social care workforce,” the DHSC said.
The funding would also support the NHS by preventing hospital admissions and helping people get out of hospital faster “by reducing wait times for A&E and ambulances”, the department added.
A plan to boost emergency and emergency care released in January suggested around one in four patients who were unable to be discharged while medically fit to leave hospital were awaiting care at home .
About 16% were waiting for a place in a care home and 24% in intermediate care, according to the study.
Care Minister Helen Whately said the government’s workforce reforms will “help more people pursue rewarding careers in social care with nationally recognized qualifications.”
“Our investment in social care means more funding to go to the frontline,” she added.
Beverley Tarka, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said the government was ‘putting us in a much better position than last year when the funding came too late, when we were already in the middle of a winter crisis”.
Its latest poll found that three-quarters of administrators fear they don’t have enough in their budget to get people the right care at the right time.
Although the additional funding would not solve all of these problems, it would “help stabilize the situation and help us to meet the challenges this winter”, she acknowledged.
When the government announced its reforms earlier this year, campaigners and experts complained that only around £250m had been earmarked for social care staff, compared to at least £500m pledged a year earlier early.
Welcoming the allocation of additional funds, Camille Oung, a member of the Nuffield Trust, said social care was often raided to reimburse other Whitehall budgets “so keeping that promised kitty and putting social workers first was the good choice”.
However, she warned that “we cannot be sure that this funding alone will solve the depth of the problem after years of neglect” and “a comprehensive program of reform” was needed.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health leaders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said social care budgets were “lower than what has been needed for a very long time “.
Although the pledged funding has been positive, “there is still a desperate need for a long-term social workforce plan, similar to the recently released NHS workforce plan”, it said. he adds.