In the recent cabinet reshuffle, Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, retained his post, but had the small, yet key addition of ‘social care’ to his title.
He is now, Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
While the Secretary of State has always had general oversight of social care policy, we believe this semantic change, whilst small, is a positive step in terms of recognising how important social care is, and the fact that social care and the NHS are fundamentally intertwined.
We in the sector have known for some time that when social care struggles, the NHS too, feels the pinch. Indeed, social care has faced large scale budget reductions in recent years, ADASS, who represent social services directors, report that a total of £6.3 billion has been cut from their budgets since 2010.
This has been felt by the NHS in terms of rapid increases in delayed discharges, this is where someone is ready to go home from hospital but the social care they require to ensure they are safe and independent at home is not available.
The number of delayed discharges per month from the NHS due to social care not being available has increased by 57% since 2010.
The large, short-term budget issues facing social care, and their knock on impact on the NHS, should now be an even higher priority for the Secretary of State than they were before his re-appointment.
The perilous state of social care funding has been well known for some time, now that responsibility for solving it has been escalated to the Secretary of State, we hope that action is forthcoming and decisive.
We would also like to see greater focus on co-ordination and integration of health and social care. Integration has the ability to reduce the demand an individual has for other services as well as fundamentally improving outcomes in terms of quality of life.
The focus and commitment to this issue is an important step in the right direction however the Secretary of State future plans will need to be accompanied by a commissioning model that starts with an understanding of individual need, supported by a funding system that incentivises and supports integrated working at every level.
We also understand that Jeremy Hunt’s new role will include oversight and leadership of the promised and planned social care green paper.
This too is positive news, that we have a senior politician continuing to lead this important piece of work should be welcomed.
However, we have some longstanding concerns that this piece of work views social care through a prism of ageing, and frames social care almost exclusively in terms ‘care for the elderly’.
We hope that the Secretary of State remembers that over one third of the people who use social care are working age disabled people, who account for nearly half of total expenditure on social care.
This is a fact that he should keep at the forefront of his mind as this work is progressed.
We believe that the future of social care must include a fair and sustainable funding settlement, and that the reforms put forward by the government work for everyone who uses social care now and well into the future.
Social care must work for everyone regardless of their age, condition or the outcomes they want to achieve.
We would regard any other outcome from the forthcoming green paper as having fallen short of success.
As such we live in hope, but not expectation.