I am confident that the majority of people realise the importance of adult social care’s role in society. This belief is regardless of the widely-held poor (and misguided) public perception of care providers. It is also regardless of the pitiful funding situation and the way that our sector is a constant poor relation to health, despite the rhetoric. A world without social care would be a very dark place for the hundreds of thousands of people in need of its support and a devastating blow to health services.
It leads me to ask, if society recognises the key role that social care plays, why has so little been done to invest appropriately and fix the system? Are we victims of our own success?
I have worked in this industry for 18 years and things have changed dramatically during this period. However, the one constant is that, whatever is thrown at it, the sector always finds a way to continue and, in many cases, improve its care delivery.
Back when I began at Care Choices, the average care home resident was in their late 70s and their needs were far less complex than today. When I now visit care homes, their clientele resemble those who would have resided in yesteryear’s nursing homes. However, the increased dependency of clients and the costs of meeting these needs has certainly not been reflected in fee increases over the years. Yet, somehow, the sector survives and finds a way to meet the needs of those it cares for.
This resilience and tenacity is integral to the character of social care, as is the need to provide the best quality of life for society’s most vulnerable. The Care Quality Commission’s statistics on the performance of the sector speak for themselves. Despite the most stringent inspection regime to date, at a time when costs are rising and fees are flat-lining, more than 60% of services inspected have been rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. We should take great pride in this achievement, but imagine what could be achieved with an appropriate funding system in place.
It is encouraging to hear that Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, has proposed a cross-party commission to review the future of NHS and social care.
The proposal, put to Parliament as we go to press, is backed by ex-health secretaries Alan Milburn and Stephen Dorrell (who is the current chair of the NHS Confederation). Norman Lamb has gone on record to say, ‘The reality is that we will either see the system effectively crash or we confront the existential crisis now. This transcends party politics.’ He also issued a stark warning regarding councils’ funding of social care, that he described as ‘on the brink’, with an expectation that a number of providers may exit the market if the future funding is not addressed.
The health and social care crisis must come to a head. It can no longer be brushed under the carpet. The respective systems are struggling to cope with existing demand, and the predicted future increases in demand cannot be contemplated as things currently stand. This issue does, indeed, transcend political divides. I hope that Parliament listens and takes the opportunity to tackle this ticking time bomb.
I know that we have been here many times before, with the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care for the Elderly and the Dilnot Commission on Funding Care and Support – all with disappointing outcomes.
However, this problem can’t be ignored forever. The health and social care wheels will fall off at some point and this is becoming increasingly evident as time goes by.
The social care sector may have proven itself to be survivalist, but there can no longer be justification for not addressing the need for adequate funding.
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