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Hunt’s speech offers much but promises little

In his first policy speech since taking responsibility for both Health and Social Care in January, Jeremy Hunt this week outlined seven key principles which he said would guide the Department of Health and Social Care, before publication of the Green Paper this summer.

At face value, these principles appear to focus on issues which concern us all, however there are some key phrases which suggest we may be a long way from seeing delivery of the solutions.

The seven key principles outlined by Mr Hunt address quality, integrated health and social care, personal budgets, promotion of the social care workforce, meeting the needs of working carers, ensuring a sustainable financial system and a fairer system of charging for care.

It is hard to imagine that any health and social care system in the UK would not strive to deliver the best possible standards of care, so the issue of quality is, in many ways, a given.

The joint health & social care assessment plans, to be piloted in Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, ostensibly represent progress, however they are only trials, and awaiting the outcome of these will take us at least two years closer to the next General Election.

Attempts to develop a more stable and motivated social care workforce will be reliant upon funding, not just to ensure that carers are fairly paid, but also so that providers may deliver sufficient infrastructure and training in order to offer progressive and more rewarding careers.

The suggestion that a cap would be introduced on “punitive” care costs is unlikely to be taken seriously in many quarters, given the government’s recent track record on this issue.

It is perhaps the rhetoric around the principle of a sustainable financial system which is the true key to understanding this speech. The notion of a debate with the public on “challenges of sourcing additional social care funding” is no answer at all, and only serves to extend the dialogue on this issue. The government looking at how it can “develop the evidence for new models and services” suggests only an increasingly protracted period of consultation.

None of this takes the social care sector much further forward than where it has been for the last 20 years. Without the answer to the key question of sustainable funding, it seems highly unlikely that Mr Hunt’s other six principles will be deliverable.

Ian Wilkie
22nd March 2018