The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is set to receive a letter from Devon County Council, requesting urgent resources for adult social care services, following my proposal last week.
I made the proposal at the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting, last Thursday (12 March) during an item on the council’s preparedness for Covid-19.
Last week, the chancellor outlined £5bn extra funding for the NHS in the Budget, but Devon County Council’s Chief Executive, Phil Norrey, said he was not confident that adult social care would receive much, or any of that funding.
Dr Norrey, flanked by two NHS colleagues, outlined to the committee some of the measures the council and the NHS were taking to prepare for the forthcoming epidemic, which is widely predicted to be the country’s biggest challenge since the world war two.
The measures include suspending routine surgery and using operating theatres to manage patients, as well as reopening community hospital beds, hundreds of which have been (in my view mistakenly) closed over the past five years.
Many people are worried that the NHS will not be able to cope with the numbers of people requiring hospital treatment, as it is running at full capacity much of the time already.
A decade of the government starving the NHS of resources has not helped matters.
Dr Norrey told the committee that he wasn’t “wildly optimistic” about the council receiving much resource for adult social care and that he hadn’t seen the precise sum.
Worryingly, he added that the importance of social care in supporting the most vulnerable appeared not to have been recognised as yet, at central government.
He said there seemed to be “a bit of a misunderstanding” about what social care support does and that he was hearing references only that day about “meals on wheels”, without the recognition of the important decisions that are made in people’s homes by care workers every day.
Of course, much of the adult social care service is about paid care workers looking after people in their own homes, which helps with people being discharged from hospital in a timely manner. It also helps with avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions.
Both these services will become increasingly more vital as the Covid-19 epidemic progresses.
Unfortunately, there is a historic shortage of paid care workers in Devon, particularly in the East of the county and around Exeter.
Indications by ministers that they will make changes to the Care Act 2014, so to relax the rules on the services councils are required to provide is NOT the answer. Devon County Council is already at risk of not being able to provide the legally minimum service, due to a decade of government funding cuts. It won’t be the only council.
This approach will simply leave people without vital care that they are currently legally entitled to. It will also be an extra burden on unpaid carers that I don’t believe they can, or should, sustain.
Adult social care has been hit hard by government funding cuts, and as a result the following services are already listed as a HIGH RISK on the council’s risk register:
• Inability to recruit appropriate qualified adult social care professionals
• The council fails to meet its statutory market sufficiency requirement for nursing care
• The council fails to meet its statutory market sufficiency requirement for personal care
My proposal, which was backed unanimously by the committee, requested that urgent resources be provided by government for adult social care.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, who chairs the Local Government’s Association Community Wellbeing Board has also called on the government to provide more resources for adult social care, to cope with the pressures of Covid-19.
I should not have had to make this proposal and it is deeply disturbing to hear that ministers don’t seem to understand how integral adult social care services are to the smooth running of the NHS.
It’s also deeply dispiriting that there appears to be a total lack of understanding or regard for how the government’s relentless cuts have already significantly damaged councils’ ability to provide that service.
NB. The situation as of this morning is that Devon County Council officers are still trying to find out from ministers whether the council will receive money or not, having heard there may be some funding. The fact that very busy officers must spend time even doing this is surely totally unacceptable.
You can view the speaker itemised webcast for this item – 5 here – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/455423
Photo: Last Thursday’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting (with thanks to Save Our Hospital Services)