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Expert Comment: Why don’t we just…put politics aside when it comes to Social Care?


Stephen Fletcher from The Leaders Club reflects on the Social Care Crisis debate hosted in partnership with Liverpool Hope. In a piece originally published in The Big Issue North, he asks: 

Why don’t we just…put politics aside when it comes to Social Care?

The words ‘crisis’ and ‘social care’ are inseparable in the current climate.

They are coupled that often, that we are in danger of becoming desensitized. But that shouldn’t be the case. We need to do something - now.

The government has projected that by 2037, there will be 1.42 million more households headed by someone aged 85 or over – an increase of 161% over 25 years (Future of an Ageing Population Report, Government Office for Science, 2016). According to research by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), Local Authorities in England plan to make £824m of savings in their 2017-18 social care budgets while demand soars. Every other day we hear that the NHS is at breaking point.

Of course all political parties should take this challenge head on. But it should not be a political football. It is far too serious for that.

But what if we divorced social care from politics? What if we brought together social care leaders, professionals and service users, from across the UK, politics aside, to attempt to come up with solutions? Idealistic, yes. Possible. I think so.

In Liverpool, with our partners Liverpool Hope University, we are trying to do that. Members of the NHS, the justice and social care systems, the police, private care and technology sectors came together to talk through the situation and begin to look at solutions. Of course there was a difference of opinion and perspective. Every person acknowledged that when they spoke. As well as inviting leaders in each sector, the event was open to all.  

We identified a range of connected issues that need to be addressed: funding and flow of money, inadequate funding for local authority care home places, the disparity between health care and social care being free at the point of use, the flow of data throughout systems, lack of choice, care home owners favouring private payers over local authority placements, how well we are using new technology, an under-informed public when it comes to healthcare choices…the list went on.

Many of the facts presented to us by Ian Smith (ex Chairman, Four Seasons Healthcare) and Professor Stephen Smith (Great Ormond Street Hospital and previously Dean of Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust) were sobering.  This included: 65% of people admitted to hospital are over 65 years old, and an increasing number are frail or have a diagnosis of dementia (Royal College of Physicians, 2012); The number of older people with care needs will rise by more than 60 per cent in the next 20 years; From 2012 to 2032 the populations of 65 to 84 year olds and the over-85s will increase by 39 and 106 per cent respectively; 850,000 people in the United Kingdom are living with dementia. By 2025, the number is expected to rise to 1.14 million; There is a predicted funding gap of more than £30 billion for the NHS between 2014 and 2021 (22%). This assumes that the health budget will remain protected in real terms.

It was difficult listening, but it was worth it. The main thing that we did agree on is that we need to disrupt the system as it exists now. The model we have does not meet our needs.

To help address the issue it was agreed that health care, social care and welfare services need to be joined up. The point resonated with the panel that we need to link data from all services e.g. Police, Fire, social services, health so that individuals can be viewed holistically rather than in silo. This is a challenge due to consent and data sharing agreements but if addressed could provide a step change in how people are supported to have the right health and social care.

We felt there is an opportunity for the Education system to support. The education system doesn’t teach life skills such as money management or making healthy decisions. To change the UK culture we need to change attitudes and although it could be argued that the responsibility lies within the family unit the trend is increasing childhood obesity and further inequalities in health and wealth.

The challenge is driving innovation that includes commissioners and potentially many providers. Providers need to be part of the solution and shape the thinking of commissioners. Providers need to more deeply understand the future needs of commissioners in the ever changing health and social care landscape.

You may say that this is just one discussion. We have resolved to make it one of many. The dialogue needs to continue. The video of the debate is available on the Liverpool Hope University You Tube channel. I would urge as many people as possible to view it and comment on it. We collected responses from the evening and we will also be announcing follow up events to which everybody is welcome. We then want to collate all of the ideas, responses and plans and bring them to the government’s attention. We want our discussions to lead to real action. 

By working together, without political agendas, we hope to bring to bear solutions that could make a real change – and help bring about a social care revolution.  

The Crisis in Social Care - watch the debate:

Liverpool Hope and The Leaders Club partnership

Published on 04/06/2019