Mea North is a solicitor in the Community Care team at Moore Blatch, specialising in supporting individuals with health and social care needs. Here, she argues that Brexit should not be used as an excuse to put social care reform on the back burner.
The Chancellor’s Spring Statement, released on Tuesday, contained several announcements that will provide huge social benefit to our communities. A rise in police funding will help communities feel safer, and free sanitary products in schools will enable every girl to get the most out of her education. Nevertheless, whilst these announcements are welcome, it was difficult not to notice the elephant in the room: where was the mention of social care reform?
Many of the Chancellor’s announcements were heavily contingent on whether the UK can secure an exit deal with the EU over the new few weeks. Most notably, the Chancellor announced that a review of social care will come in the summer as part of a departmental spending review, provided that the UK leaves the EU with a deal and regains some economic certainty.
As leaders in the social care sector have pointed out, this likely means that the consistently delayed Social Care Green Paper will be delayed yet again. The much-awaited paper would address some of the issues facing our social care sector today: ensuring quality and safety in service provision; promoting a valued workforce; improving practical support for families and carers; and reforming how social care is paid for.
Initially intended to be published in summer 2017, the paper has been repeatedly put on hold – most recently by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, who rolled it over from late 2018 to April 2019. Judging from the Spring Statement, the publication date seems to be rolling further and further out of view.
It goes without saying that Brexit is a hugely important issue. Particularly from a social care perspective, Brexit will impact everything from the workforce to the production and import of medicines. Nevertheless, Brexit’s monolithic presence in public and political life is presiding over important decisions and preventing progress for the individuals who need it most.
Whilst it is essential that we gain a positive result from Brexit negotiations, the needs of the most vulnerable in society must not be overlooked amongst Brexit uncertainties. Publication of the social care green paper is a matter of urgency.
As a solicitor in the Community Care team at Moore Blatch, I have seen first-hand the impact of a social care system in crisis. I specialise in supporting individuals with health and social care needs to access the support and funding to which they are entitled. Individuals with long term, complex health care needs may be entitled to NHS Continuing Healthcare (CHC). To determine eligibility for CHC, the patient must undergo an assessment, and the guidance recommends input from both a healthcare professional and social worker. The current shortage of social care staff means that there are simply not enough social workers to attend assessments for continuing healthcare cases. Without adequate funding and recruitment strategies, demand for social care workers is significantly outstripping supply.
Lack of input from social care at these assessments may also be a contributing factor in the number of patients being denied NHS funding. NHS England’s latest report on NHS Continuing Healthcare indicates that the number of patients eligible for funding in this financial year to date via the standard assessment process was 50,773, down from 55,327 this time last year. In the third quarter, of the 15,803 patients assessed for CHC funding, only 3,855 were found to be eligible across the whole of England. Inevitably, the fewer patients with long term needs that are funded by the NHS, the higher the burden on the social care system and the greater the need to address the issues.
This means that many vulnerable individuals are sometimes waiting months for the support they are entitled to, or denied it entirely. In the meantime, the financial burden falls on their families, who struggle to meet care bills worth thousands of pounds and with no where to turn except to the social care sector.
The needs of the most vulnerable in our society must be taken off the back burner. Our social care system is in dire need of attention. This makes the publication date of the Social Care Green Paper more pressing, so we can look to the future and improve the services we currently provide for those who need the support more than ever. It is hoped that a more joined-up approach to health and social care provision will be recommended.
Securing a positive future after Brexit is essential for the UK. However, the UK’s future is only meaningful insofar as it offers its citizens health, security and wellbeing. It is easy to get swallowed up in the Brexit conversations, but policy-makers mustn’t forget the individuals at the heart of their decisions.
Despite Brexit uncertainties, it is crucial that the social care green paper is launched urgently in order to safeguard the future of our most vulnerable of citizens – deal or no deal.