Tag Archives: Andy Burnham

Would increasing NHS spending cut social care services?

Interesting stuff from shadow health secretary Andy Burnham today, as reported in the Guardian, who claims that increasing NHS spending could adversely affect social care provision.

Burnham objects to the government’s commitment to increase NHS spending in real terms year on year; “If they persist with this councils will tighten their eligibility criteria even further for social care. There will be barely nothing left in some parts of the country, and individuals will be digging ever deeper into their own pockets for social care support,” the Guardian reports him as saying.

As a cynical journo, my instant reaction is this is just a way of scoring a few cheap political points before the emergency Budget next Tuesday. And it probably is – but he does make a couple of salient points nevertheless.

It has struck me as odd that the only department with a guarantee of an increase in spending – amid swingeing cuts for everyone else – is health, especially at a time when the NHS is performing relatively well – if you take meeting the majority of targets as ‘well’. It smacked of a sop to the electorate – increasing health spending is always a vote winner.

Also, while there is nothing to say that the increase in NHS spending will come from the social care budget, there is nevertheless an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul with the Conservative commitment too – its reasonable to assume that increases in one department will mean that others gets cut. There are no spending commitments for social care (that I know of), so cuts in this area would seem inevitable.

Burnham also notes that putting the NHS in a stronger financial position to social care would make joint working – the current prevailing trend – harder to achieve.

Also, cutting social care could increase the burden on the NHS if more people end up in hospital due to falls etc due to struggling without care services they need because they cannot afford them. They could stay there longer if there is not the social care provision – meals on wheels, housing, care services etc – to support them in the community on release.

But whatever happens in next week’s Budget, it would seem the future for social care is an austere one; at a local level, there are already news stories of cutbacks in services, or charges for them increasing. To pick one example at random, here is a story from the online version of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo about county council proposals – currently out to public consultation – to raise £600,000 by increasing the cost of social care services.

Northampton County Council justifies this plan by saying that without the increase in charges, services would have to be cut.

This is a situation repeated across the country. It would seem that social care providers and service users are going to have to do more with less. How the government – and local authorities – will deal with this will be interesting to see. All should become clear in the coming weeks.

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Adult social care White Paper: good points but short on funding detail

For all Andy Burnham’s fine words about following in the footsteps of Bevan and establishing a National Care Service, the White Paper – Building the National Care Service – doesn’t address the main problem with social care – and the original purpose of the green paper last year: how it is paid for.

But first, the good points:

The proposals for a National Care Service – free at the point of use, given according to need, with the principles of being universally accessible, having a strong national framework locally delivered, being preventative and flexible, with support for carers, and information and advice for all – is admirable.

Social care has – as the government admits – lagged behind other sectors, such as healthcare in terms of provision. It has never had a national structure and one is well overdue. It is hard to argue with the government’s aims here.

The commitment to put in place nationally consistent eligibility criteria for social care – enshrined in law – is one that many have been crying out for. The ending of the postcode lottery will go some way to addressing the perceived unfairness of the current system.

Likewise, ensuring accurate, relevant and accessible information about what people are entitled to, how the assessment process works and how to access care services is provided to everyone, and improving the gateway for accessing social care and disability benefits to make it simpler and easier for people, are also welcome and long-overdue developments.

Keeping Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance also shows that the government has listened to some outcomes from the Big Care Debate – getting rid of this would have proved very unpopular.

The continuing commitment to the personalisation agenda – in giving service users choice and control – will also be welcomed by the majority, not least social workers who may have feared yet more upheaval.

But on the downside…

It also talks about people in residential care only having to pay their own fees for 2 years. Fine, but the average time spent by an older person in residential care is 3 years, so they would only get one year ‘free’.

Also, while people in residential care would still have to pay their accommodation costs, there is a commitment that no-one will have to sell their house to pay for care within their lifetime. With a deferred payment plan, their family may have to pay for it out of their estate after their death.

This leads neatly to the crucial bit – and one I suspect made with an eye on the election – no decision on the funding of the National Care Service will be made until 2015 at the earliest. Not so much kicking it into the long grass but the jungle.

This is where the White Paper falls down. The social care sector has been creaking along with the much-hated means testing system for years. It is widely accepted that the system needs reform – mostly because it is too complicated and perceived as unfair in some cases – and while it says it will address this, it doesn’t say how.

The government still leans towards some sort of compulsory levy – which means the so-called “Death Tax” isn’t dead – but is not specific on what. Indeed, they have called for a new commission to look at when and how the fee should be applied, and how much it should be. But wasn’t that the original aim of last year’s green paper?

However, in fairness, there wasn’t a great deal consensus on funding. Andy Burnham revealed that, of the 3 funding options outlined in the green paper, 35% favoured a partnership approach, 22% opted for an insurance model, while 41% backed the comprehensive approach.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are still talking about their £8,000 voluntary insurance scheme to pay for all this. As mentioned before, this doesn’t seem to be enough and I doubt enough people will sign up to it, knowing it is something they may not need in the future.

So, much-needed reform is on the way for the social care sector. While the proposals are great in principle, I can’t help but worry how all this will be paid for – there is precious little on that.

Also, the lack of political consensus on this – the Tories branded the White Paper a ‘train crash’ in today’s Daily Mail – means that after an election we could be back to square one again.

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Blown consensus = blown chances?

So near. And yet, so far. 

In my previous blog, I wrote about how any chance of serious debate about social care and how it is funded has gone, since the Conservatives launched its “Death Tax” poster campaign.

But since then, more has emerged about what was happening behind the scenes before that, and it makes for interesting reading.

I’ve blogged before about how consensus is needed on the future direction and funding of social care and for a while it seems as if the health secretaries of the 3 main political parties had had the same idea.

Apparently, Andy Burnham, Andrew Lansley and Norman Lamb had put party politics to one side and begun working together – in secret, without their superiors’ knowledge – for the good of the country in trying to find consensus on the future for adult social care funding, and had made some progress towards this, according to The Times.

It sounded too good to be true and, ultimately, was.

But the fact that they tried has to be applauded. Social care is such a big issue that it will require support from all 3 sides if a solution to a growing problem is to be found.

It is a shame that this progress was, apparently, sacrificed on the election altar. Whether after this breach of trust the parties will come back together again after the election is a question that will need to be asked.

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Little honesty in social care debate

So, the political mud-slinging has begun in earnest. As the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all strive to tell you how bad the others are (or would be), reasoned debate goes out of the window.

The Tories have landed the first blow, accusing Labour of planning a £20,000 “Death Tax” to be levied on all estates after death.

To ram the point home, a new poster was revealed depicting a gravestone engraved with ‘RIP Off’ (see what they did there?) and the slogan: ‘Now Gordon wants £20,000 when you die.’

Health secretary Andy Burnham has rejected this accusation (or hinted that the party is planning it, depending on which paper you read), saying that “firm proposals” will be set out before the election – one assumes he means the White Paper on adult social care funding, which is still being promised, although time is fast running out if it is to appear before the election.

Currently, Labour is sticking to its line that it is considering the outcomes of the Big Care Debate, which took place last autumn after the release of the green paper on the future of adult social care funding.

The Conservatives have said even less, apart from their £8,000 voluntary insurance scheme.

Responding to this, another other related stories, Stephen Burke, chief executive of Counsel and Care, a charity that works with older people, their families and carers, has appealed for an “honest and serious” debate that recognises that better care will cost more, and that radical reform and proper funding is required.

While many people in the social care sector will agree wholeheartedly with that call, the chances of such a debate happening are virtually nil.

Also, any hopes of a cross-party consensus on the future of social care – something various social care commentators have called for – now appear dead and buried.

With the parties now getting into the swing of electioneering, everything they say will be geared to getting your vote. So a reasoned debate on the future of care funding will not happen, because it will require some tough – i.e. not popular – decisions to be made, if a crisis of care is to be averted. No politician is going to say anything that might lose them votes.

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Critics condemn planned cuts to fund free social care plan

Another day, another political row about the government’s free social care at home for the elderly plan. Today, it’s how the plan is being funded.

While the government has been criticised for thus far being oblique about where the money will come from to fund the plan – they estimate it will cost £670 million per year, but others think it will be much higher – now they are starting to say where money will come from, they are garnering more criticism.

Health minister Andy Burnham, as reported in today’s Times on the eve of the publication of the Social Care Bill, says that “£60 million would be diverted from the health service’s research and development budget and £50 million from public health promotions.”

Inevitably, scientists have warned against cutting research budgets. The current research budget is more than £1 billion per year, so that cut is hardly a drop in the ocean.

Research is key for the future of healthcare and should be considered an investment – having drugs that cure is cheaper than the cost of lengthy treatment – and cuts should be avoided if possible.

However, the money will have to come from somewhere – if the Bill actually gets passed before the election, which is not guaranteed – and tough decisions will have to be made about which budgets get cut. It’s what we have government for; they make the hard decisions so we don’t have to.

It could be that funds are found from elsewhere. For example, a productivity drive in the NHS is expected to make up to £20 billion in efficiency savings in the next 4 years, which would more than pay for the Bill.

But wherever cuts come from to fund the free personal care plan, someone is going to be left unhappy. Well, almost; nobody has criticised the plan to save £60 million by cutting down on management consultants. Strange, that.

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