A story in today's Herald newspaper highlights the latest Scottish Government statistics on free personal and nursing care for elderly people living at home in Scotland. Spending has increased by more than 160% since the policy was introduced, with the bill reaching almost £350m in 2012-13.
In 2012-13, 47,680 people benefited from the policy, receiving an average of 8.4 hours of care a week, compared to 32,870 people receiving an average of 6.9 hours of care a week in 2003-04. A further 30,000 people in Care Homes also benefit from the policy.
This large increase in people receiving services in their own homes reflects an increasing older population and a move away from long-term care in hospital and care homes, towards providing care in a person’s own home for as long as possible.
The Scottish Government gave councils the extra £40m, but the latest statistics shows the total bill for free personal care, including packages provided to care home residents, is now £465m. That is another £41m increase since 2009-10.
Cllr Peter Johnston COSLA's health and social work spokesperson said: "... it is evident from the Scottish Government's publication that the policy is becoming more expensive. Councils' social work budgets are under huge pressure, with some - from what we are hearing - nearly at breaking point. It is for this reason that a fundamental debate about the funding of care and support is required."
This view is reflected in UNISON Scotland's 'Time to Care' report. Front line staff describe how the financial shortfall is driving a race to the bottom in social care provision. In addition, the pressure on care homes is reflected in home closures and adverse inspections. This is driving bed blocking in hospitals. There are 837 patients assessed as ready to be discharged in Scottish hospitals - that's the equivalent of the total number of beds in the Southern General Hospital.
More elderly people being cared for in their own homes is of course a good thing. But the policy has to be properly funded. Devolving attendance allowance, as recommended by the Scottish Labour Devolution Commission is a positive medium term solution. It is often forgotten that Attendance Allowance is not paid to Scottish residents in care homes. This means that nursing and personal care support in England is £188 and in Scotland £241 - not quite as significant as it is often portrayed. Free care in Scotland is not quite what it seems given hotel costs and Scotland should not have ignored the Dilnott report.
These latest statistics should be a wake up call and the Scottish Parliament needs to review the funding of the policy now. Before care for Scotland's elderly, gets even worse.