Health: Theresa May pressured to address social care issues
This morning a cross-party group of MPs sat around a table in Westminster to discuss tactics. How to approach a meeting with the Prime Minister on the subject of a long-term, sustainable solution to health and social care. Led by the Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, the group was not entirely singing from the same hymn sheet on how to persuade Theresa May of the urgency of the matter but they were united in their belief that she needs to address the issue .
So for 25 minutes early this afternoon, two representatives from each party met with Mrs May, her new health adviser James Kent, and with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Mr Lamb, a former health and care Minister, said later that there was a ‘proper, constructive discussion’, and an agreement to initiate a dialogue.
He added that they were not rejected out of hand and that it was hoped there would be a further meeting with Mr Kent in the near future. It does not on paper sound entirely promising, But, Mr Lamb said, there are reasons to be positive. First, that the meeting happened in the first place, especially given everything else going on, and that there are promises of more meetings to come.
The pressures on health and social care this winter have been hard to ignore. Record-breaking attendances at A&E, record-breaking bed shortages, record-breaking delays in discharging patients into the community.
And you only need to go into your local hospital to immediately see the link between the health and social care systems with desperate older people wanting to get back home or at least get out of hospital but unable to because care can’t be put in place.
In December, the Prime Minister did confirm they were ‘starting internally’ to look at the issue. However, health minister David Mowat has now confirmed there is no time frame and no terms of reference for any such review.
This is the same health minister who earlier this week said people need to be as responsible for their parents as they are for their children. So in the midst of all this, calls for cross-party Commission on health and social care have been growing louder and louder.
In January, 75 organisations including Directors of Adult Social Services, Independent Age, the Royal Colleges of Gps and Nursing, said ‘2017 simply cannot be another year where these huge issues are ducked’.
They warned that unless the Prime Minister takes a bolder approach millions of older, ill and disabled people and their carers will continue to be badly let down. And in the same month there had been calls from the chairs of three select committees to take the politics out of the issue in order to find a solution.
There have, of course, been various commissions into long-term care. But there has been a tendency for Governments to quietly park them in the ‘too hard to do’ drawer. As was pointed out at this morning’s meeting, there has also been a tendency for Treasury to blanche at the prospect of asking the public how much more they would be prepared to pay to ensure the care of the elderly and disabled.
Thus, the group around the table said this morning, the need for politics to be taken out of this incredibly difficult discussion.