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On 25 January 2018, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate a motion moved by Baroness Wheeler (Labour) on the “impact on front line social care of the Government’s NHS plans and the delivery of services over the winter period”.

The NHS in England has been under acute strain in recent weeks. This fits a pattern of increased demand for health and social care services in winter months, and both the NHS and social care providers have had specific winter plans in place in recognition of the challenges that arise during the season. However, concerns have been raised both in Parliament and across the sector about the unprecedented pressures experienced during the current winter period and in respect of the resilience of current arrangements for health and social care in the context of the prevailing funding settlements in England.

Social care is part of a complex system of public services and forms of support, including health care provided by the NHS, for people who require assistance with daily living. This means that the NHS and social care sector are connected and interdependent in many ways. Whilst much of the recent debate on social care has concentrated on how pressures in the sector—including those relating to demand, funding, staffing and capacity in residential care settings—have impacted upon the NHS, pressures in the NHS can in turn have a knock-on impact on the social care sector. 

This briefing provides an introduction to the issue of the impact on the social care sector of current pressures in the NHS by giving a brief overview of social care, recent NHS plans and the current winter peak in demand for healthcare. It then discusses the challenge for the social care sector of delayed transfers of care, before considering recent proposals to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector. A list of suggested reading can be found in the final section as a source of further information on various aspects of this complex issue.

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