A care campaigner today called on the Government to recall parliament and convene an urgent COBRA meeting to tackle the growing crisis in health and social care.
Mike Padgham said reports of up to 500 people a week dying because of delayed emergency care had sent shock waves across the country and it was time for urgent action.
He was dismayed at the lack of urgency or detail on the healthcare crisis in the Prime Minister’s speech on Wednesday.
Mr Padgham, chair of the social care provider organisation, The Independent Care Group (ICG), said Government inaction ‘simply isn’t good enough’.
He said urgent intervention on both NHS care and social care was imperative.
“Healthcare experts are telling us the current situation is now, in many respects, worse than when we were hit by Covid-19,” said Mr Padgham. “At that point we mobilised and tackled the pandemic. At the moment, the Government seems to be sitting back and doing nothing and that simply isn’t good enough. Mr Sunak spoke in the widest sense of tackling waiting lists today, which has left everyone saying, ‘is that it?’.
“Colleagues are telling me this is the worst they have known in decades.
“We are seeing that the NHS is unsafe and that social care is broken. We cannot go on any longer, this is a national scandal.
“The situation could be eased almost immediately by providing urgent support to social care. One part of the crisis is the inability of hospitals to discharge patients because of a lack of available social care.
“However, care and nursing homes and homecare providers are ready, willing and able to help. Capacity can be boosted but it needs more financial support to make it happen.
“We need urgent measures to tackle the 165,000 staff vacancies within the sector and then a longer-term strategy to create parity of pay and working conditions between NHS and social care staff.
“I have suggested it before, but we might need to create a temporary, volunteer army to help out with non-caring tasks in our homes or in the community to help us tackle the situation, but that needs government action to enact.
“At the moment, vulnerable patients are unable to be transferred from hospitals into more targeted care, causing backlogs in the system and contributing to hospitals’ inability to free up beds for urgent healthcare.
“The £500m announced by the Government to support social care to free up hospital beds seems mired in bureaucracy and for the most part isn’t getting to the frontline.”
He said an inability of care settings to recruit staff and take on care packages was also placing their viability in doubt.
“Providers’ incomes are being squeezed at a time when costs are going through the roof. As a result, more are more likely to go out of business, further intensifying pressure on the NHS,” he added.
“The pandemic really accelerated the existing challenges in the sector and now we have a perfect storm of issues – severe staff shortages, falling occupancy, poor funding and ongoing coronavirus and flu cases within care homes.
“We have been warning for more than a decade that governments of all political persuasion were failing social care and for the past two years that we were reaching crisis point.
“Now we have gone beyond crisis and need urgent action. A recall of parliament and COBRA meeting are now long overdue.”
“As a start, I would also like to see the prime minister and the health secretary come on the frontline to see for themselves the challenges experienced by the sector.
“The promised funding isn’t enough, we need to see, at the barest minimum, the extra £7bn a year our Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt has previously said was needed by social care, ‘just to stand still’.”
The ICG says more than 30 years of neglect and under-funding has left social care on the brink of collapse, with Covid-19, chronic staff shortages and the cost-of-living crisis turning the situation critical. Care and nursing homes are closing and homecare providers are struggling through a shortage of staff.
At the end of last year, the ICG published its Five Pillars of Social Care Reform document which sets out what it believes are the actions required to save the sector.
The five pillars are:
• Ring fence a percentage of GDP to be spent on providing social care to those who already receive it and the 1.6m who can’t get it
• Create a unified National Care Service, incorporating health and social care
• Set a National Minimum Wage per hour for care staff on a par with NHS
• Set up an urgent social care task force to oversee reform
• Fix a ‘fair price for care’ cost per bed and cost per homecare visit.