Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb has said he will seek the views of nurses and other health professionals in an effort to find a solution to an “emerging care crisis”.
Speaking at the party’s annual conference today, the former coalition health minister said he was “starting a national conversation”.
“We have to talk about the emerging crisis in care,” he told delegates at the conference in Bournemouth.
“I will travel the country meeting with people, patients, carers, local authorities, charities, health leaders, doctors and nurses, public, private and voluntary sector,” he said. “We will invite contributions from think tanks, from academics and from trade unions.
“We will confront both the need for more resources and for change,” he stated.
Overall, Mr Lamb said there was an urgent need to address shortfalls in funding for both health and social care.
One solution could be to allow councils to put up taxes to raise extra money for local services, such as support for older people or mental health provision, he suggested.
“Today, I am starting a national conversation. We have to talk about the emerging crisis in care”
However, Mr Lamb said any moves to levy extra funds in this way would need the support of the local community.
He also proposed the creation of a new dedicated national tax to fund both NHS and social care spending that would be clearly marked on people’s payslips.
However, this would not mean increasing taxes as such, as it would be offset by deductions to income tax or national insurance.
“I am very interested in the idea of a dedicated NHS and care contribution – separating it out from the rest of taxation, clearly identified on your payslip,” he told delegates.
“And I am really interested in the idea of the right for local areas to raise additional funds for the NHS and care if they choose,” he said.
He added: “Why can’t my county of Norfolk decide to spend more on vital services for older people, to improve cancer services or for mental health if it chooses?”
Mr Lamb said he wanted to start a “national conversation” about funding and the need for reform and pledged to seek the views of nurses among others.
In his speech he highlighted the need for a greater focus on prevention work and helping people manage their own health better through “self-care” initiatives.
“I am really interested in the idea of the right for local areas to raise additional funds for the NHS and care if they choose”
He also flagged up schemes that use volunteers to support more traditional health and care services, such as a project in Cornwall where GP practices work with local helpers to support the frail and elderly, “giving them a reason to live”.
He stressed the NHS and social care services must take advantage of new technology to make the system more efficient, including monitoring devices that could be used by patients at home.
Mr Lamb, who claimed the NHS was currently “stuck in a time warp”, said it was also vital to ensure better IT links between primary and secondary care to allow medical records to be swiftly and easily accessed by GP practices, hospitals and patients themselves.
He also re-iterated his party’s commitment to improving mental health provision and ensuring these were on a par with services for physical health conditions, describing current inequalities as “scandalous” and “stupid”.
“Mental ill health costs the country over £70bn a year in lost productivity, benefits and human misery,” he said. “We can do so much better.”