MONEY spent on care of Highland pensioners is at the bottom of a national league table – and things will only get worse as a result of Highland Council’s budget, it has been claimed.
The Highland Senior Citizens Network (HSCN) has slated service cuts in the year ahead, saying it is "utterly appalled" at "gross underfunding of adult social care".
Angry council chiefs quickly issued a statement refuting the accuracy of the group’s information.
The HSCN is standing by the data. It acknowledges NHS Highland’s role as lead agency for adult services but says the "legal responsibility for provision" rests with the council.
In a letter to councillors, shared with other politicians, health chiefs and the Scottish Government, HSCN chairman Ian McNamara stated: "Fair and equitable distribution of services in this area rests firmly with you".
It highlights the council finance director’s reference in budget papers to NHS Highland’s belief "that additional funding of £11.8 million is required to avoid making significant service reductions," but that the heath board was "not in a position to fund these pressures and, therefore, the gap has to be met by significant savings".
The council budget statement went on to state that "urgent action" was necessary to ease the pressure on services.
The HSCN has accused the council of "woefully underfunding social care for the over-65s".
Its letter continued: "We’re horrified that the council has passed a budget that is designed to have such a deleterious effect on older people."
It asked why was the council "intent on making an already dire situation even worse?"
The network cites comparative official figures from 2014-15 that show Highland at the foot of a table of social work spending on the over 65s in Scotland. The figure for Highland is £1172 compared with £4278 in Shetland, and a national average of £1853.
Other data shows Highland bottom of the list in Scotland for hours of home care provision for the over 65s.
The HSCN urges the council to set targets of at least the Scottish average.
People committee chairman Andrew Baxter said: "We’re extremely disappointed by the letter which makes unhelpful and erroneous claims.
"We made the bold decision in 2012, unparalleled in Scotland, to delegate all responsibilities and funding for adult social care to NHS Highland to achieve a fully integrated service and ensure better services. In each successive year, we’ve protected that budget.
"All council services have been required to make savings. However, no savings were passed on to NHS Highland."
Councillor Baxter said NHS Highland would receive an additional £2.8 million in 2018-19.
He added: The financial information quoted by the HSCN is inaccurate and misleading."
In response, Dr McNamara said: "We’re using figures produced by a statutory body on behalf of the Scottish Government. We have no reason to doubt them."
Muriel Cockburn of the council’s opposition SNP group, said it was "irresponsible to create fear for our most vulnerable senior citizens".
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "We’ve increased our investment by over £25 million for public services in the Highlands this year alone including adult social care. In the coming financial year, the settlement of £10.7 billion will provide a real terms boost in revenue and capital funding."