Johnson’s Government Is Set One-Year Challenge to Fix Social Care

The head of England’s National Health Service set the U.K. government a challenge to fix the country’s social-care system within a year.

“We do not have a fair and properly resourced adult social-care system,” Simon Stevens, chief executive officer of NHS England, told the BBC on the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the service. He said he hoped the sector’s funding problems could be solved by its 73rd birthday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC on Sunday that about 30% of U.K. deaths from Covid-19 had been in care homes, a proportion he said compared favorably with other European nations. Yet the pandemic exposed weaknesses in the system, as care homes around Britainstruggled to get the necessary protective equipment and outbreaks killed thousands of elderly residents.

“We must use this as a moment to resolve, once and for all, to actually properly resource and reform the way in which social care works in this country,” Stevens said.

Successive governments have grappled with how to fund adult social care as an aging population puts increased pressure on limited resources. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged in his manifesto for last December’s election to build a “cross-party consensus” on how to fund the sector.

“That consensus will consider a range of options but one condition we do make is that nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it,” Johnson’s Conservatives said in their manifesto.

Enormous Problems

The opposition Labour Party’s finance spokeswoman, Anneliese Dodds, told the BBC on Sunday that the country had gone into the pandemic with 120,000 vacancies in the social-care sector, and that a national service to deliver the needed care could save costs elsewhere.

“We’re seeing enormous problems and these are not problems that don’t result in costs elsewhere in the system,” she said. “We know for example lots of people end up in the NHS because they’re not receiving that social care.”

The National Audit Office said last month that the situation in care homes had been exacerbated during the pandemic by the discharge from hospitals of about25,000 patients into such homes, without them being tested for the virus.

That represented just 3% of people discharged from hospital, and was a lower number than those discharged in the same period last year, Stevens said. “They were all because the clinicians felt that that was the medically appropriate thing to do,” he said.

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