Has the Government made social care less of a priority?

Vicky McDermott is Chair of the Care and Support Alliance which represents 80 of Britain’s leading charities including Age UK, Scope, Alzheimer’s Society and The Royal British Legion and writes:

In quieter times the bleak picture of social care that was laid out in Theresa May’s first week as Prime Minister might have been accompanied by a slew of negative headlines. But with attention understandably elsewhere, that didn’t happen.  Yet while figures were being released that social care needs almost £1 billion to plug the funding gap the responsibility of social care was downgraded from a Minister of State post to the bottom rung on the Ministerial ladder (Under Secretary).

Care and Support Alliance

Mrs May’s welcome ‘One Nation’ rhetoric will have already jarred with the reality that social care now appears to be a lesser priority for her Government than it was for Mr Cameron’s.  Social care ought to be one of the areas that Theresa May looks at seriously because it’s difficult to see how the NHS can become sustainable without it. Even NHS Chief Simon Stevens agrees – he recently told the Telegraph:

“The most immediate need is social care. If home care disappears and care homes close, A&Es are quickly overwhelmed. We need creative solutions.”

NHS figures released on Mrs May’s second day in office, show why he’s saying this.  Delayed discharge has reached record highs. Delayed discharge represents a waste of taxpayers’ money at a time when the NHS is already severely overdrawn. A million hospital days were lost in 2015, costing the NHS £2.4 billion. Social care costs a fraction of the cost of treating patients in hospital and represents better care for patients. Delays because of social care are on the increase, and the biggest reason for social care delays were ‘patients awaiting a care package in their home.’ It is estimated that money wasted by the NHS on excess bed days due to people awaiting homecare could fund 5.2 million hours of homecare.

Next, to add to the woeful picture of the country’s social care provision, was the report on the impact of the spending review on health and social care.  The Conservative chairman of the committee Dr Sarah Wollaston MP put it in stark terms when she said:

“Increasing numbers of people with genuine social care needs are no longer receiving the care they need because of a lack of funding.”

‘Life chances’, ‘social justice’, ‘compassionate conservatism’: it doesn’t matter to those being denied help with the basics such as getting dressed, and help with eating, what you call it.

If schools simply turned children away because they had run out of money there would, understandably, be a national outcry; but the reality is local authorities are being force to deny care to people who desperately need it. People who might need help to eat, and without it will become malnourished. Or people that need help to get dressed so they can get out to a job or a social group.

May said:”Talk to almost any ordinary member of the public and the frustration they feel about the loss of control over their day-to- day lives is obvious.” I would urge the Prime Minister to talk to one of the one million older people who have unmet care needs who have no control over their lives because they are denied the care they need. A properly funded social care system delivers value for money because it maintains people’s dignity and their independence for as long as possible. It supports not just the person that needs care but helps their families too. It also is the best way to keep people from unnecessarily turning to their GPs or hospitals – where they go if they have nowhere else to turn.

Debates around the EU referendum, amongst other things, highlighted that the public has a desire to see their NHS properly funded – and investing in social care would help ease pressure on the NHS.

If the new Prime Minister’s “serious social reform” is to reach the most vulnerable in society – adequate funding for social care needs to be properly addressed.

Carers want recognition and true collaboration with services

Liz Norton is a carer who looks after a family member who lives with mental health issues.  Last month, Liz, fellow carer Rose Chitseko and colleagues from Healthwatch Essex visited the Department of Health. Here, she presents a personal perspective on caring and explains why others in her situation should consider contributing to the call for evidence before it closes later this month.

Liz Norton: ‘We [want] recognition as involved experts in the care of people we love.’

Why you ask, would I be invited to the Department of Health (DH)? Why would they be interested in me?

Answer: Both Rose and I are carers for family members and Healthwatch Essex invited us to join them speak with Mark Browne, the Carer Policy Lead at the department.

Mark and his team are collecting our experiences and views to inform a new government strategy for carers that will outline how support can be improved.

Care logo

This strategy will aim to reflect carer’s lives now and set out what more can be done to offer quality support in the future.

After introductions and lots of photographs, we were taken to their big and rather daunting executive boardroom!

We were put very much at ease by everyone as Rose, Tom Nutt, the Chief Executive Officer of Healthwatch Essex and myself chatted to the Carers Policy Team about our role as carers. We went on to discuss what carers’ day to day lives actually look like.

We explained that we wanted recognition as involved experts in the care of people we love, and support from all the organisations with which we indirectly collaborate. Rose and I were now in our comfort zone and happy to talk about the job of caring having spent many years in this vital role.

We discussed the Healthwatch Essex Carers Said report, which outlines what Healthwatch Essex has learnt by listening to hundreds of carers.

Their work provides a fantastic insight into the lived experience of carers and highlights our hugely diverse needs and experiences.

The report includes quotes from carers themselves. What comes through time and time again is that services are fragmented, inconsistent and information not helpfully shared between statutory organisations.

Rose and I felt very inspired to talk about how carers feel and the importance of listening to what we say about our caring role and felt empowered being together to share this great day.

We welcome the development of the new Carers Strategy, this feels like something very exciting for all carers. The strategy is going to focus on topics like better carer’s health…something which has often been overlooked in the past and yet is hugely important for the whole family.

DH will be taking into account what carers say through their online survey How can we improve support for carers? in order to help them develop this strategy and they will want to hear from carers and the people they care for. They also want information from all the professionals that support the carers so that they can develop the strategy and understand the complexity of our caring roles.

To assist them in gathering this vital information I would like to call on all carers to fill in the online survey How can we improve support for carers? before it closes later this month on 31 July.  It’s so important that carers take the time to fill this in as it’s a chance for as many carers as possible to have your say – it is vital that as carers we are really heard and not just paid lip service to.

I would like to think this is more than another exercise to pacify carers but rather a real advancement in how our caring needs are met, it is vital that all professionals listen to what carers have to say if we are to move on.

Thank you to Tom Nutt, Yvette Wetton, and all the staff from Healthwatch Essex for their support and for a great day, where we feel we helped make a difference to carers. Support for carers has come a long way but there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that carers are being listened to, and properly supported in continuing in their caring role.

“There’s a long way to go to reach properly supported caring roles”