A NEW care system designed to treat Scotland’s growing elderly population in their own homes has too few staff to properly perform its duties, it has been claimed.

Just four out of 31 authorities say they have adequate numbers of care and social work staff to keep more people out of hospital by looking after them better in the community.

The extent of the shortages have been exposed by a survey of care boards carried out by the Scottish Parliament, which has also revealed serious financial pressures.

READ MORE: Thousands of elderly patients in Scotland missing out on palliative care

Even agreeing the budgets of the new authorities – formed by merging functions from councils and the NHS – appears to have been problematic, with several suggesting there is confusion about how the Scottish Government’s much trumpeted £250 million fund could be used.

Edinburgh’s care board has told MSPs its budget for the current financial year has still not been agreed because they cannot deliver the NHS services required within the funding provided.

Other care boards – known as integrated joint boards or IJBs – also highlighted gaps between projected costs and budgets, despite having achieved savings worth millions of pounds.

Scottish Borders and Dundee IJBs said the level of savings required to remain in the black this financial year are “unprecedented”.

North Ayrshire said the delivery of some savings were “contingent on cutting frontline nursing care”.

Dave Watson, Scottish organiser for Unison, described the current position as “a bit of a guddle” and called for a national framework that could provide clarity over budgets.

He said: “It was intended that these organisations would create seamless care and join things up. We are certainly not there. Whether we can get that is the fifty thousand dollar question.”

And he added: “There is not a lot of transparency or clarity about how much money there is and where it is supposed to go.”

The Scottish Government created IJBs to try to prevent patients from being stranded in hospital awaiting care packages, and to help avoid the necessity of hospital treatment in the first place.

Scotland has 31 care authorities, reflecting council areas, after Stirling and Clackmannanshire merged.

These boards assumed responsibility for millions of pounds of public spending in April.

A government survey, issued this summer, asked each IJB whether they had adequate staffing levels staff to achieve the vision of shifting care away from hospitals and into the community.

Four said yes, 18 described areas where they were short-staffed and eight were clear that staff numbers were insufficient.

READ MORE: Thousands of elderly patients in Scotland missing out on palliative care

Ian Welsh, chief executive, of charity the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, which represents patients, families and organisations involved in long-term care, said: “Our members are concerned that the focus of Health and Social Care Partnerships has, to date, been on meeting the legal requirements of integration, such as who sits on the new integrated boards, how budgets are managed, staff terms and conditions and the establishment of groups to drive locality planning and strategic commissioning.

“While this is all necessary work, the guidance accompanying the Act makes it very clear that integration must not amount simply to a structural exercise.”

Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health, said it was still “early days” for the “ambitious” integration of health and social care services and £250 million from the NHS would be invested into social care.

She said: “This is a long-term change but it will also have immediate benefits ensuring that people across Scotland have access to the highest standards of care in the right place and at the right time.”

Ms Campbell said the department recognised that raising the status of social care as a profession was key to attracting the “right people” and delivering quality care.

READ MORE: Thousands of elderly patients in Scotland missing out on palliative care

She added: “Our vision and direction is to ensure that, older people are cared for in their own homes for as long as possible and that the services are in place to support them to do this.

"We are encouraging the development of intermediate care services across Scotland, which provide a safe and effective alternative to hospital admission, and ensure timely discharge back to the community. Providing an older person with a period of intermediate care allows them that extra time and support to regain their independence, mobility and confidence and can ensure they avoid a long term admission to a care home.”