England’s largest councils have called for social care reform to be unveiled this year, but warned against a “knee-jerk” centralisation of the system in the aftermath of coronavirus.
The warning follows speculation by the Guardian that social care could be brought under control of the NHS, with commissioning and budgets controlled by the health service rather than councils.
Attention has turned back to reform of social care in recent weeks, following concerns over the handling of the pandemic in the care sector. A BBC Panorama documentary will explore this issue tonight.
However, the County Councils Network (CCN) today warns against “overly simplistic arguments” for a centralisation of the care system, potentially removing it from democratically elected councils.
Councils say this is the wrong solution and want a re-invigorated role in social care reform, working with local NHS organisations to enhance community-based care as part of reforms in the long-awaited social care white paper.
Leaders argue that they have strong links to their communities, providers, and other linked council services, such as housing and public health, which will be lost if care is centrally controlled.
Cllr David Fothergill, CCN spokesperson for health and social care, and leader of Somerset County Council, said: “The harrowing scenes that we have witnessed in our care sector deserve scrutiny, but we should be wary of a knee-jerk reaction that removes democratic oversight from adult social care and places it in a centralised system that Coronavirus has shown contains huge drawbacks.
“Many of the people supported by councils require their care more embedded in their community, not provided by a one-size fits all, system which cannot make the best use of localised knowledge and networks.
“The Coronavirus has exposed the fragility of the adult social care system due to years of underinvestment and no reform. It is only right that the dialogue turns to how we can re-shape the system so that individuals receive a world-class care service, but in order to provide this councils must be part of the solution.”
The CCN’s 36 local authorities are responsible for half of the country’s entire spend on care services, and leaders of those councils argue the sector would have been even more vulnerable during the pandemic had it been overseen from the centre.
They say issues with the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the national testing programme illustrate drawbacks of a centralised care service.