CORDER’S COLUMN: Tough questions for our Minister of Social Care

Rob Corder

Alistair Burt MP, the Minister of State for Community and Social Care at the Department of Health, has declined an interview with Care Home Professional, although we promise to keep trying.

The minister’s team responded to my request for an interview by asking for a list of topics that I would like to discuss. The following list is what I provided:

  1. The National Living Wage is increasing costs for care homes, but local authority funds are not rising to compensate. Does the Government have a plan to bridge this gap?
  2. Care homes in the affluent South are thriving as self-funding residents pay higher fees, but in less affluent areas of the country, where care homes rely on local authority-funded residents, they are struggling to survive. Is there a plan from Westminster so that cash can find its way from the more affluent areas to the less affluent so that standards of care can be maintained across the country?
  3. What is happening with the Better Care Fund? None of the care home owners I speak to feel they have seen any of the £5.3bn.
  4. Care home operators are willing and able to help the NHS ease bed blocking by providing beds with quality nursing services. But it feels like the NHS would prefer this crisis continued rather than pay independent care homes to help. How do you feel about this?
  5. In the BMA, the NHS has an incredibly powerful trade union to represent it. How should legions of care home operators, who are capable of relieving pressure on hospitals and saving money for taxpayers, get the point across that they can provide health services more efficiently than hospitals if the funding followed the patient?

OK, there are some tricky issues here; perhaps I should have sent over a few softer questions, but the (very polite and professional) response from Mr Burt’s team this week was that the minister is unable to accept my interview invitation.

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Mr Burt has not given a personal reply, but I did receive a response from the Department of Health, which I quote here and allow you to draw your own conclusions:

A Department of Health spokesperson said:

“It’s essential that older and vulnerable people get the high quality care they deserve.

“That’s why we have given local authorities access to up to £3.5bn to spend on social care. Councils will have almost £200 billion to spend on local services over the lifetime of this parliament, but ultimately councils are responsible for local spending decisions.

“NHS England has been working closely with the sector to promote closer working between commissioners and providers, and recently published a number of guides to support local systems. These were co-produced with the sector and have been positively received.”

The statement then continued with what the e-mail called ‘Background’.

Background

  • The Government is giving local authorities access to up to £3.5bn of new support for adult social care by 2019/20.
  • Councils will be able to introduce a new Social Care Precept, allowing them to increase council tax by 2% above the existing threshold. This could raise nearly £2bn a year for social care by 2019/20.
  • From April 2017, the Spending Review also makes available social care funds for local government, rising to £1.5 billion by 2019/20, to be included in the Better Care Fund. We are proposing to distribute this additional Better Care Fund money in such a way that those councils which can raise less from the precept benefit more from this funding.
  • Overall, the Local Government Finance Settlement targets money towards councils with social care responsibilities, in comparison with those which do not.
  • The National Living Wage is funded as part of the overall settlement, as one of a number of pressures. We expect Councils will need to increase the prices they pay for care in order to cover costs providers are facing such as the National Living Wage.
  • Ultimately councils are responsible for local spending decisions but with a growing ageing population we need to focus on keeping people living independently for longer.
  • We are encouraging all local systems to work closely with providers – across residential and home care – to ensure all available capacity is utilised. We are also encouraging new approaches such as ‘discharge to assess’ models, where care homes are used as short term placements whilst patients’ needs are assessed.
  • The care and nursing home sector is represented by several organisations – Care England, The National Care Association, The National Care Forum and the Registered Nursing Homes Association – all of which advocate on behalf of the sector.

I will keep trying to speak to ministers, so please keep raising the issues that affect your businesses and your residents. The louder your collective voice, the more it will be heard.

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