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The state of health care and adult social care in England 2015/16: Summary

This year’s State of Care report shows that, despite increasingly challenging circumstances, much good care is being delivered and encouraging levels of improvement are taking place. However, the sustainability of this position is in doubt. We are also beginning to see some evidence of deterioration in quality, and some providers who are struggling to improve their rating beyond ‘requires improvement’.

The fragility of the adult social care market and the pressure on primary care services are now beginning to impact both on the people who rely on these services and on the performance of secondary care. The evidence suggests we may be approaching a tipping point. The combination of a growing and ageing population, people with more long-term conditions and a challenging economic climate means greater demand on services and more problems for people in accessing care. This is translating to increased A&E attendances, emergency admissions and delays to people leaving hospital, which in turn is affecting the ability of a growing number of trusts to meet their performance and financial targets.

While large numbers of care homes and home care agencies are providing good quality care – and threequarters of those that we had rated as inadequate, and then re-inspected, improved – this still left a quarter of services originally rated inadequate that did not improve enough to change their overall rating on re-inspection.

Through our market oversight function in adult social care, we also know that profit margins are reducing – both due to pressures on fees, and cost pressures that include the national living wage. Already we are seeing some providers starting to hand back home care contracts as undeliverable; local authorities predict more to come. Until recently, the growth in demand for care for people with greater care needs had been met by a rise in the number of nursing home beds, but this bed growth has stalled since April 2015.

The financial challenges in the NHS have been extensively documented. Despite this, we have found much good and outstanding care – particularly in children’s and young people’s services and critical care – which we highlight and celebrate. We have given outstanding ratings to five acute trusts and two mental health trusts, and five trusts have exited special measures since April 2015. However, we have also found too much acute care that we rated inadequate – particularly urgent and emergency services and medical services. And it will be increasingly difficult for trusts to make improvements to these services unless they are able to work more closely with adequately funded adult social care and primary care providers.

The quality of care received in NHS mental health trusts is broadly similar to that in acute trusts, but with an even higher level of variability within providers as well as between them. Community services are more likely to be rated good and outstanding than inpatient services such as wards for working age adults and psychiatric intensive care units. In particular, we have concerns about the safety of acute mental health services. Problems with the physical environment frequently contributed to a rating of requires improvement or inadequate for inpatient services.

The quality of care provided by primary medical services remains high. Despite a context of increased demand, coupled with a shortage of GPs and increasing vacancy levels, 83% of the GP practices we have rated so far are good and 4% are outstanding.

The challenge for this sector, as for the rest of the system, is to consider what responses to increasingly difficult conditions will maintain quality, now and in the future. Some general practices have formed new models of care, including joining together in federations, and have involved people who use their services in their conversations from an early stage.

Last year we said that, to meet the challenges ahead, services needed to collaborate and leaders needed to think outside traditional organisational boundaries. We have since seen some cases where this is starting to happen, so we know it can be done. It now needs to happen more consistently, and faster.

Our evidence suggests that finance and quality are not necessarily opposing demands; many providers are delivering good quality care within the resources available, often by starting to transform the way they work through collaboration with other services and sectors. We cannot ignore the impact of tough financial conditions on providers – but our focus will always be on quality and we will always act in the interest of people who use services.

We will continue to highlight good and outstanding care, to support improvement and to take action to protect people where necessary. And we will continue to use the unique and detailed information we hold on quality to help those that lead, work in, and use health and care services to make the right decisions.

People have a right to expect good, safe care from their health and social care services. Working with our partners, we will offer the system whatever support we can to make the changes necessary to ensure high-quality care into the future.