Queen's speech 2021

The Queen’s Speech yesterday attracted a strong response from mobility and access leaders, charities and campaigners when it was announced that “proposals for social care reform will be brought forward” but with no indication of when detailed plans would be published.

The COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, many argued, underlined the importance of the care system, which supports millions of people in their own homes and in care homes.

The UK government has previously stated that it has put £1 billion into care in the last year and recently unveiled plans to invest more, but sector leaders were yesterday calling for more urgent action to be taken after years of underfunding and increasing demand.

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A “vital need for change”

Graham Ewart, CEO of Direct Healthcare Group commented that he was pleased that the Health and Social Care Bill has “at last” been addressed in the Queen’s Speech today, albeit lightly.

He said: “In order to truly provide the very best care for those in need, we need urgent long term planning and funding support, there are no ifs or buts.

“The past 14 months have exposed the weaknesses of the sector and the pandemic has shown us just how important a new, national strategy and the care sector’s vital need for change.

“We need to ensure the system can meet the demands of the growing ageing population, and that everyone in the UK has access to high quality care wherever they live, without being subject to a postcode lottery of services.

“The outdated current system of underfunding has led to a price sensitive market. Not only has this enabled a market driven by cost over quality, but it has compromised innovation and the resulting clinical outcomes and levels of patient care.

“As a country which prides itself on being at the forefront of healthcare, we are falling behind our global neighbours in terms of driving the sector forward and providing the highest quality care which patients deserve.

“Funding and the subsequent innovation it enables, is key for the future of the health and social care sector, and I hope the announcements today kickstart a much needed reappraisal.”

Why the government cannot afford to “delay progress”

Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation (Hft), said that while the Queen’s speech showed a welcome recognition by the government that COVID-19 will cast a long shadow over the NHS, the “scale and depth of impact” of the pandemic on the NHS is immense.

She said: “The Health and Care Bill may help improve collaboration between services but it will not fix the most urgent issues facing the service, with critical workforce shortages and a huge backlog of unmet need for care.

“Without significant investment in the workforce, infrastructure and technology, the backlog won’t be addressed quickly and the public will experience avoidable long waits for care.

“It is a huge disappointment that the government still has no plan for social care, letting down the many people needing social care support, their families, social care staff and providers.

“The Treasury’s objection that reform is unaffordable does not stand up to scrutiny, with pragmatic and workable solutions on the table that would cost just two per cent of what we currently pay for the NHS.

“Given the weight of the case for change, the question is not whether social care reform is affordable but whether the government can afford to delay progress on an issue that could become its Achilles heel.

“The government’s stated desire to address inequalities through the levelling up agenda is welcome but plans for skills, jobs and infrastructure need to be delivered in ways that will improve the health and wellbeing of people across the UK.

“More than a third of 25-to 64-year-olds in the areas of England with the lowest healthy life expectancy are unable to work because of illness or disability.

“A lot of ill health is avoidable, and a healthy population is a key asset for long-term economic recovery. Direct investment in early years and family support, education, employment, housing and communities is crucial to improve health and ‘level up’ opportunity and prosperity for people living in all parts of the country.”

Independent research commissioned by Hft recently revealed that COVID-19 has taken its toll on the social care workforce with 62 per cent of providers reporting a rise in absenteeism relating to mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.

The need to support unpaid carers

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK highlighted the pressure currently on unpaid carers in caring for older and disabled relatives “costing them their livelihoods, relationships and at the expense of their own physical and mental health.”

Helen said: “Whilst Government has committed to social care reform proposals being brought forward, this must be delivered without any further delays.

“We need to see detailed plans for reform that make sure unpaid carers get the practical and financial support they need to care.”

“We were shocked that the NHS White Paper failed to mention unpaid carers at all and Government cannot not miss the opportunity again to recognise carers.  Carers must be a core part of the upcoming bill.

“Carers UK wants to see a duty on the NHS to have regard to unpaid carers and to promote their health and wellbeing, to ensure carers are systematically identified, supported, and included throughout the NHS.

“Integration across health and social care can only work if unpaid carers are visible, recognised, and counted.

“We are disappointed that the Government has failed to bring forward the Employment Bill included in the 2019 Queen’s Speech and their manifesto commitment to introduce Carer’s Leave.

“With an ageing population and the impact of the pandemic on families, more of us will become unpaid carers at some point in our lifetime and we must put in place measures that ensure people can juggle work and care.

“We are still waiting for the Government response to the consultation on Carer’s Leave and need to see concrete plans about how this will be taken forward.”

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