Why don’t we just… take politics out of social care?

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The words “crisis” and “social care” are inseparable in the current climate. They are coupled that often that we are in danger of becoming desensitised. 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 per cent over 25 years. But according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, local authorities in England plan to make £824 million 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.

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 try 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, former chairman, Four Seasons Healthcare, and Professor Ian Smith of Great Ormond Street Hospital were sobering. Two-thirds of people admitted to hospital are over 65 years old, and an increasing number are frail or have a diagnosis of dementia. 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. Some 850,000 people in the UK 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 up to 2021.

It was difficult listening but it was worth it. The main thing that we did agree on is that 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. We need to link data from all services – police, fire, social services, health – so that individuals can be viewed holistically rather than in silos. This is a challenge due to consent and data sharing agreements but could provide a step change in how people are supported to have the right health and social care.

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 YouTube channel. I would urge as many people as possible to view it and comment on it. We collected responses from the evening and will 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 and help bring about a social care revolution. ν

Stephen Fletcher is founder of the Leaders Club (theleadersclub.org), a forum for members to exchange ideas and best practice and develop new approaches in the public and private sectors

Photo: Darren O’Brien

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