As has become obvious to anyone who has read a newspaper or watched a news channel over the past 5 years, the NHS is straining under the weight of demand. With accident and emergency departments swamped, critical staffing levels and insufficient number of beds the national health provider is struggling to provide the excellent level of care that it is famed for. Alongside this, within the social services sector a perfect storm of an aging population, increased numbers of people living with long-term conditions, squeezed local authority budgets, discrepancies between the fees paid by private clients and local councils, high staff turnover and increased overhead costs has meant that for both systems the current situation is completely unsustainable.[Care Management Matters, September 2015, p 24]
While the government has already committed to increased spending on the NHS by £10bn per year in real terms by 2020/21 social care falls under the budget of local services and so they will continue to wither on the vine. As mentioned in a previous article, ‘Why we should care about Care’ both services work hand-in-hand, and a true integration could see money saved, lives improved and pressure reduced on both the NHS and local councils and their social services.
Just as mental health must be treated in the same manner as we treat physical health, social services must be treated in the same manner as health services. As with mental health, ongoing social services needs and care within the community are often overlooked or perform badly in the result-based systems that funding-justifications rely upon because they can’t be easily quantified. While the costs of fixing a broken leg can be quantified in terms of staffing costs for A&E, cast material costs, rental of crutches and physiotherapy costs, the long-term costs for someone coping with a psychological illness are near impossible to calculate due to the nature of the cost-variables they present.
As as a party we need to be the champion of social care and social services, not just because they are needed but because they present the clearest choice for the promotion of an individual’s long term liberty. Rather than side-lining patients whose problems can’t be fixed within a prescribed formula, increased care in the community and improved social services can allow for more personally-tailored care packages. Rather than after-care being conducted through follow-up appointments at hospitals or doctors surgeries, many can be undertaken within a person’s home – alleviating pressure on NHS services. It is not only the liberty of the patients who are effected but of the personal carers too. Our country relies on a silent army of them, many of them unpaid, who are currently averting the crisis the lack of resources in community care and in local social services will bring.
During the General Election campaign both Labour and the Conservatives were quick to back the needs to the NHS. Let the Liberal Democrats be the party that backs social services too.
* Alex Hegenbarth led the Remain campaign in Swindon but now lives in Cheltenham..