The Government’s upcoming green paper on social care is a rare opportunity to adjust the course of the sector and fix the shocking funding shortfall that is harming the lives of our service users.
Up until now the focus of much of the preamble for the green paper has centred on the ‘dementia tax’ and how as a society we can fund our elderly care system.
While of course this is vital we must not ignore the needs of people who require social care services throughout their entire lives – people whose needs are often complex such as those with a learning disability, autism and behaviours which may be described as challenging.
At Swanton Care and Community it is our privilege to support individuals who face these types of challenges, to help them live as full and independent lives as possible, but we cannot continue to do that if we are forced to operate in a broken system. The green paper is an opportunity to fix that for the 1.5million people in the UK with a learning disability.
To get to the right answers we need to start by asking the right questions. We must avoid the temptation to approach this purely from a financial perspective and rather focus on the outcomes we desire for our service users and work backwards from there.
Our care model must concentrate on empowering individuals and maximising their independence. If we approach from this perspective we will make vastly improved decisions along the care pathway.
Whatever new funding is finally recommended in this green paper, and an uplift will indeed be necessary, it must flow to the end user. To date the Better Care Fund has not made its way to the frontline in nearly enough areas of the UK creating real geographical disparities in quality. The new Council Tax precept will also feed these regional imbalances.
Crucially there can only be real progress in the efficient delivery of social care if we achieve full and meaningful integration with the NHS. We cannot continue to treat these two systems as separate; to do so perpetuates the bureaucratic nightmare that denies people the opportunity to manage their own health in ways that supports their choices and independence.
Often people using adult social care services have lifelong health conditions which need regular monitoring and treatment. Under our antiquated dual system approach there are often disputes between health and social care as to who pays the bill, meanwhile the person with a learning disability suffers through endless delays. Increased access to joint personal budgets would put the needs of the service user first and reduce unnecessary distress.
Policy makers must also understand that there are vast differences in the needs of the many groups who use social care services and therefore the funding they require. Individuals with learning disabilities, autism and behaviour described as challenging will often require lifelong support by highly skilled staff. Such training costs money, but in the long run it is an investment with a high return.
Finally, the green paper should consider the role assistive technology will play in the delivery of outstanding social care services in the coming decade. Technology will create greater independence and reduce costs on local authorities.
Companies such as GrandCare are showing just what is possible with touchscreen technologies providing the individual with social communications, instructions, reminders, medication prompts, and web-based entertainment. These devices can be used to notify designated caregivers by phone, email, or text if anything seems amiss or if wellness readings fall out of range.
This upcoming green paper is a real opportunity to carve out a better deal for adult social care. Yes, we want and need more funding, but this is also about examining how we can work smarter and innovate faster.
I would urge politicians of all parties, providers, commissioners and service users to come together, be brave and build a fully integrated and modern system fit for the 21st century.