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07.01.16

Former care minister pitches cross-party care reform

Former care minister Norman Lamb MP has proposed a cross-party commission to review the future funding and structure of social care and health services in the Commons yesterday, supported by a “21st century Beveridge commission”.

Backed by former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, a string of MPs, health leaders and Care England, Lamb delivered his pitch through a Ten Minute Bill, a tool through which backbenchers can make their case for legislation.

Making the case for radical change in the system and wider funding to meet growing demand, the former minister argued that the system “will drift into a state of crisis” if the “existential challenge” isn’t confronted immediately.

“This transcends narrow party politics. We have to decide as a country how much we want to spend on our NHS and care system,” the Lib Dem MP said.

“What can we do differently to make better use of the resources available? Should we consider, as I have proposed, a dedicated NHS and care tax, and give local areas the ability to vary it? Should we end the artificial divide between the NHS and social care? We fund health and social care through three different routes—through the NHS, local authorities and the benefits system. Does that make sense?”

He cited LGA research showing that the government’s social care precept of 2% will only narrow the existing funding gap by about £1.7bn, but only if every council takes advantage of the new power. Similarly, the Better Care Fund, set to pour an extra £1.5bn into local authority pockets, will only take effect in 2019-20 – meaning “further cuts to social care are inevitable”.

Lamb argued that the position of social care is perhaps even more serious than that of the NHS. While the health service faced a “rapidly deteriorating financial position”, the care system is racing towards a £6bn deficit by the end of the decade. Councils also estimate that increasing the minimum wage will add another £1bn to costs, even without considering the planned roll-out of the care cap.

As well as having an effect on the sector itself, this funding gap will have knock-on effects on the NHS, as clarified by its own boss, Simon Stevens.

“Given what we know about the inexorable rise in demand, can it make any sense at all to commit a reducing share of GDP to health and care? In social care, the anticipated shortfall, with rising demand, up to 2020, will result in more people losing support, or support packages becoming more inadequate.” Lamb said.

“I fear that the consequences of failing to address that funding situation could be very serious. The government argue that substantial further efficiency savings can be achieved. Yet, however much we hope that the necessary ‘efficiency savings’ will be achieved through smart re-engineering of the system to deliver better value and better care, the reality is that around the country anecdotal evidence suggests that too often preventive services are cut as clinical commissioning groups indulge in crisis management.”

Yesterday, the NHS Confederation’s chair, former Tory health secretary Stephen Dorrell, signalled support for Lamb’s ambitions for an independent health and care commission. He also made the case for a new Beveridge report, an argument which Lamb, who has pushed for this since his party conference speech last year, used to conclude his speech.

The Bill will be read for a second time on 11 March.

(Top image c. Peter Byrne, PA Images)

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