I beg to move amendment 98, page 68, line 22, at end insert—
“(2A) A social care needs assessment must be carried out by the relevant local authority before a patient is discharged from hospital or within 2 weeks of the date of discharge.
(2B) Each integrated care board must agree with all relevant local authorities the process to apply for social care needs assessment in hospital or after discharge, including reporting on any failures to complete required assessments within the required time and any remedies or penalties that would apply in such cases.
(2C) Each integrated care board must ensure that—
(a) arrangements made for the discharge of any patient without a relevant social care assessment are made with due regard to the care needs and welfare of the patient, and
(b) the additional costs borne by a local authority in caring for a patient whilst carrying out social care needs assessments after a patient has been discharged are met in full.
(2D) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on the effectiveness of assessment of social care needs after hospital discharge, including a figure of how many patients are readmitted within 28 days.”
Clause 78 is the final clause of part 1, but it is an important one, and we hope that the amendment improves it. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s views. This all relates to discharge to assess, where patients are discharged from hospital into the community setting and have their care needs assessed at home, or wherever they have gone from hospital, rather than waiting to be discharged from hospital and having to stay there longer than they clinically need to before the assessment takes place. Importantly, this is something that has been trialled during the pandemic. There is a lot of vulnerability at that point, and this process will matter to a lot of people. It is right that we give it proper consideration, and I think we ought to tighten it up.
I will confess that I have gone back and forth on the principle of discharge to assess, and I have had this conversation with colleagues in recent months. When the Bill was published, my first instinct on this clause, as former local authority social care lead, was a negative one. I felt—I still have this lingering doubt—that there was a real risk of patients essentially being parked in the community to the detriment of their health, with the obligation and cost put on local authorities. Of course, in many cases, some of that will be borne by continued healthcare funding. However, in the end that will become a local authority responsibility for each individual, and there will be a significant risk of them being readmitted shortly afterwards.
Local authorities are already scandalously underfunded to meet the social care needs of their population. Adding some of the most vulnerable people to that list and to the quantum of need that needs to be met will add greater risk, so I have serious reservations. This is not a conceptual debate, and that makes life easier; we have evidence to work with. Through no one’s planning, we have essentially run a de facto pilot scheme during the pandemic, so we know of what we talk. We have a sense of what is going on on the ground, and clause 78 will put it on a permanent footing.
On matters relating to local government, I always fall back on my former colleagues in local government. Their views on this are very clear, and I have had this conversation with them a lot. It always ends up with me saying, “Are you sure?” However, we should not miss their evidence. They say:
“The repeal of legislation related to delayed discharges is good news. This paves the way for the continuation of discharge arrangements which have worked well during the pandemic. The emerging evidence is that going home straight from hospital is what people want.”
I can certainly understand that. They also want greater clarity on the future of this de facto pilot from next month, in the interregnum between when the Bill becomes law and when the funding runs out next month. That is a very reasonable request, and I hope the Minister can respond. The strength of feeling from local government colleagues—our experts by experience—cannot be ignored, and that is why we are seeking to improve rather than prevent this innovation. It does need improving.
Important concerns were raised in the written evidence from Carers UK, which says:
“Under the CC (Delayed Discharges, etc.) Act 2003 a carer’s assessment can be requested and if so, a decision must be made about what services need to be provided to the carer, whether by social services or a consideration by the NHS, to ensure that the ‘patient is safe to discharge’.”
That will be repealed by clause 78. However, they will still be able to fall back on the Care Act 2014, so the carer will get a carer’s assessment under that if they wish. Presumably, that will now take place post-discharge. That is quite a significant change. A great deal of people will become family carers overnight. They might not be conscious that that will happen, but before anybody has made any assessment of their capability to do so, they will quickly find themselves operating as family carers for very vulnerable people immediately post discharge. By the time they get the carer’s assessment, they may well have been struggling to cope for a significant period of time. That could have some dreadful consequences, which is why amendment 98 states that there must be an assessment within two weeks. Obviously, we would want it much more quickly than that, but two weeks is a bare minimum backstop.
I do not think that this is catastrophising. According to research that Carers UK submitted, 26% of carers had not been consulted about discharge before the discharge of the person they care for, and a third were consulted only at the last minute. I do not think that is setting families up to succeed. If the Minister thinks that that will get better as a result of these innovations, we would welcome that, but I would like to understand why he thinks that might be the case and how the situation will look better. Carers UK recommends putting greater responsibility on the integrated care board to have oversight of how discharge to assess is working for the individuals in their care and across their footprint more generally. That is what we have sought to recommend with amendment 98.
The concerns of Carers UK are echoed by the British Association of Social Workers, and social workers, like family carers, have first-hand experience of the trial. The association worries about there being a move away from the fundamental point that the wellbeing principle is uppermost, and its evidence is concerning:
“A survey of Social Workers conducted in December 2020 involved in hospital discharges highlighted that the vital contribution of social work in the multidisciplinary team was being marginalised by the medicalisation of people’s journeys out of hospital. Most importantly, social workers felt that the voice of the individual was lost”.
It is quite significant to say not only that skilled staff would not be able to play their normal role in the process but that the individual’s voice would not be there.
The worst manifestation of the provisions in the clause would be for it to be in the system’s interest to move people out of hospital, because that would then be the priority. We need to make sure that that is not the case. The British Association of Social Workers would rather that the clause was not in the Bill at all, but we have not gone that far and have sought to improve it by putting a maximum two-week wait time in the Bill. That would be prudent. The amendment would also centre the integrated care board in the management and oversight of the process. If the integrated care board is to act as a system leader and integrator, surely such a system process—this is the ultimate system process—that touches on the borders between institutions ought to be within its purview. Otherwise, where will the oversight come from? Who will hold the different parts of the system to account?
I hope that the Minister addresses the concerns I have expressed, because this is an important and, in the plainest-speaking sense, risky decision. There are ways to mitigate that and we have suggested a good one in the amendment. I am keen to hear the Minister reflect on that.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North. We discussed this when the Bill hit the Vote Office, because from a system management point of view I saw this change as a positive move. It was necessary in the system to increase the flow out of hospitals, particularly in the pandemic.
We talk about flows out of hospitals, but we are really talking about individuals—our nearest and dearest. During the summer, my husband and I were both responsible for supporting my mother and my mother-in-law in and out of the system, and my mother-in-law was part of the discharge to assess programme. This is not the place for me to rehearse the traumas of becoming, as my hon. Friend so eloquently put it, a family carer overnight and realising, if I did not know already, how little there is outside hospital. My hon. Friend’s point about families suddenly becoming responsible carers overnight is really important. Thousands and thousands of families are finding themselves in that position. Most people would agree about discharging people out of hospital as soon as possible, particularly given the fear of covid and people not being able to go into hospital to see their loved ones. In my mother’s case, she was discharged very quickly, and we went to get her because there was no ambulance service.
The closure of hospitals to visitors adds to the trauma of an acute episode, and people then have to take on that responsibly. People are assessed for care and told in the same sentence, “You’re assessed for care, but there is no care,” and that care takes several weeks to come into play. Among my own family and my in-laws, we have a clinical person in the team, we are fairly articulate, we are knowledgeable about the system and we perhaps know what we are taking on and have the capacity and capability to manage the situation, but it is deeply worrying that people who have no advocate or no other support—even social workers—are told when they are discharged that they need assessed care but there is none. It will take some time for us to understand what has happened to thousands of people who have found themselves in such a difficult position. I am particularly worried about people who have no advocate.
I suspect that the Minister will not accept the suggestions in the amendment now, but I hope he will take advice so that we can understand better—perhaps through an assessment—what has happened to people who have been discharged in the last few months without having support in place. We need to hear about that.
Of course, if those people stay in hospital, they get some sort of support and care, and throughout the winter, families will not support the discharge of their loved ones. That is a difficult place to be. I have seen, as we all have, situations in which the safest thing for a person to do is to remain in hospital, even if they do not need acute care. However, that is no place for anyone to be if they do not need such care, and we would not want to get to that place. If the Minister does not accept the amendment, he would be wise to use the recess, before the Bill goes to the other place, to put in greater provisions in this area. If we all accept that moving out of hospital is a good thing, many more safeguards must be put in place to support families who find themselves becoming carers overnight, as well as people who have nobody to care for them.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham North and the hon. Member for Bristol South. I knew that the hon. Member for Nottingham North and I had a shared background in local government, but I did not realise that it may have covered the same portfolio. I share his view on two points in particular. First, we have had the opportunity, of necessity, during the pandemic to see how the approach might work in practice. My instinctive reaction is that I can see how it works from the perspective of the system and the health service but, with my old council hat on, I would say, “How does it work from our perspective?” What we have seen throughout the pandemic has not been without its challenges, but it has broadly worked.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am always happy to speak to my local councillors, who will not hold back in telling me what they think is working and what is not. However, I do think that this is the right approach when implemented properly. We know that if people stay in hospital longer than is medically necessary, it affects not only the system but individuals’ physical and mental health. It is therefore right that we get people home or to an appropriate interim place where they can be cared for and continue their rehabilitation in the right setting.
The amendment would introduce a new requirement for local authorities to carry out social needs assessments either before a patient has left hospital or within two weeks of discharge. Integrated care boards would have to agree the process with local authorities, including any penalties when local authorities fail to assess people within two weeks. It would also introduce a requirement for an annual report to be produced
“on the effectiveness of assessment of social care needs” post discharge. As I hope I alluded to in my opening remarks, I entirely appreciate the intention of the amendment—all patients must receive the care that they need on being discharged—and understand where the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are coming from, but I am not sure that it is the best way to advance that objective.
Existing discharge guidance states that health and social care systems must determine the most appropriate discharge pathway for each person to ensure that they receive the interim care and support they need, pending full assessment. Legislation already requires the NHS to meet people’s health needs, and local authorities must still assess and meet people’s adult social care needs. We are co-producing new statutory guidance on how the existing statutory duty for health and social care partners to co-operate will apply in relation to discharge. By way of reassurance, where local areas follow the discharge to assess model, unpaid carers are still entitled to a carer’s assessment where they are not able to care or need help. A carer’s assessment should be undertaken before caring responsibilities begin for a new caring duty or if there are increased care needs.
As all colleagues who have been involved in local government or the NHS will know, the devil is in the implementation rather than the detail in this case. We must ensure that the system works. The entitlement is there, and we must ensure that that pulls through into practical realities. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the discharge guidance also states:
“Before discharge a determination must be made about the status and views of any carers who provide care, including that they are willing and able to do so.”
Evidence broadly suggests that when long-term needs assessments are carried out at the point of optimum recovery, that leads to a more accurate evaluation of needs and more appropriate care packages. Many people discharged from hospital require longer than two weeks to recover; we fear that requiring social care needs assessments to be completed within two weeks of discharge would create an extra layer of bureaucracy. In practical terms, it would not necessarily function in people’s best interests.
Our extensive engagement with health and social care partners has highlighted how current bureaucratic discharge requirements, including penalties for local authorities, can damage relationships and create discharge delays, and they do not support collaborative working across sectors. We fear that creating a new penalty for local authorities for failing to carry out assessments would again risk creating a tension within the system, which would go against the spirit of the integrated working that the Bill seeks to support and the good co-operation that I would argue normally and generally occurs. Our existing clause creates freedom for local areas to develop discharge arrangements that best meet their local needs.
I fully appreciate the need for accountability, which is why we are working with NHS England to publish hospital discharge data from 2022 onwards that will include data on the destination and discharge pathways being used to support people after they leave hospital.
For those reasons, I gently encourage the hon. Gentleman to consider not pressing his amendment to a Division.
I am happy to say that I will consider that request; obviously, I have heard what the Minister has said. I was slightly heartened to hear the point about guidance. I suspect that if we do not see something exactly like what I propose in the amendment, we will see something very similar to it being put in the guidance.
However, we do not have that guidance at this point, which leaves us with two alternatives: either we press the amendment to a Division or we do not. If we do not, we will not be opposing the stand part debate, which means that we might create the impression that we have waved through something that we are concerned is too loosely defined. For that reason, we have to press the amendment to a Division.
The clause repeals legislative barriers to the discharge to assess model, in order to better align legislation with current best practice. During the pandemic, local authorities and the NHS developed innovative ways to support better discharge from hospital to community care. The clause is crucial in enabling local areas to build on those partnerships to adopt the discharge approach that best meets local needs, including the discharge to assess model.
The clause will enable the safe and timely discharge of people to a familiar environment where possible. Individuals receive recovery and re-enablement support, and are assessed at the point of optimum recovery. This will enable a more accurate evaluation of their long-term care and support needs. The provision does not change existing legal obligations on NHS bodies to meet their local population’s health needs, and local authorities are still required to assess and meet people’s needs for adult social care.
In addition to those responsibilities, we are co-producing discharge guidance with health and social care partners, setting out how the existing statutory duty in the NHS Act 2006, which requires health and social care partners to co-operate, will apply to discharge. Our guidance will be clear that no one should fall through the gaps so that people receive the right care in the right place at the right time. Discharge to assess will not change the thresholds of eligibility for continuing healthcare—CHC—or support through the Care Act 2014. The clause includes consequential amendments to other pieces of legislation. Those are needed to remove references to pieces of legislation that we are repealing with clause 78 and to tidy up the statute book.
I shall not duplicate anything I said in the previous debate. I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South said. We accept that hospital is a bad place for a sick person to be once their initial ailment is dealt with. They do not want to be around all sorts of illnesses when they are susceptible.
I want to make a final point on rehabilitation and re-ablement, as the Minister called it. That is at its most valuable as early as possible. Getting a person into their rehab and exercises rather than just being parked in an armchair is a big part of someone’s bouncing back from physical injury, and it helps with mental health as well. It is not desirable for them to wait a long time for an assessment because that will be a part of how they bounce back, rebuild their lives, and re-able and rehabilitate themselves. That strengthens rather than weakens the case for trying to be very tight about how quickly we want that to happen.
I concur with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. It is absolutely right not only to have the right model in place but that that model moves swiftly and effectively to provide the services required.