Scotland’s National Care Service Delayed By Three Years

Scotland’s health secretary has confirmed the government has delayed its flagship plan to set up a National Care Service (NCS) by three years. Michael Matheson told BBC Scotland News that the Scottish government needed “more time” to work with councils.

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the NCS plan in 2021, and said it was “arguably the most significant public service reform since the creation of the National Health Service” in 1948, with an aim to end the “postcode lottery” in community health and social care, by ensuring consistent and high standards and “embedding the principles of fair work for care workers”.

The NCS was expected to cost between £644 million and £1.26 billion, however in an update, Scotland’s social care minister Maree Todd outlined revised costs, showing the total could rise to between £880 million and £2.2 billion. In her letter to the finance committee, which previously criticised the ambiguous costings for the framework Bill, Ms Todd said the “most significant change” was the ‘go live’ delay.

“Due to a clearer understanding of the requirements in the set-up of the NCS at National level, obtained through the co-design workshops and engagement with people with lived experience, the NHS and council body COSLA, the NCS programme has reprioritised and rephased various workstreams to reflect the new understanding,” her letter said.

She said that “while the delivery mechanisms for the NCS may now be different” the vision behind it remained the same, including a consistently high level of care across Scotland.

The Scottish government had described it as the “biggest public service reform in Scotland since devolution”.

It also promised to establish a system whereby people could move between different types of care as their needs changed.

The scheme would have transferred social care responsibility from councils to a new national service.

However, Ms Todd proposed abandoning that transfer and abandoning plans for regional care boards, as well as creating a national board to manage the shared accountability process.

She said if MSPs agree to the “significant” changes then costs could drop to between £631m and £916m.

Conservative MSP Liz Smith said: “It’s time for the SNP to finally ditch their unaffordable, centralised National Care Service. The fact that the already eye-watering estimates have had to be revised so steeply upwards should signal its demise.

“The details of how the NCS would function are shockingly vague and sketchy, so even these breathtaking new costings are little more than guesswork.