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Valuing the workforce is among core principles underpinning social care reforms, says Hunt

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Having a “valued workforce” will be key to improving social services, according to Jeremy Hunt who today outlined the core principles behind the government’s much-anticipated plans for reform.

In his first speech since his department was given full responsibility for social care in January, the health and social care secretary set out seven key principles that will underpin the government’s expected green paper on social care.

“We need a relentless and unswerving focus on providing the highest standards of care”

Jeremy Hunt

These include “a valued workforce”, a “sustainable model funding for social care”, and integrated care, with the NHS and social care systems “operating as one”.

Speaking at a World Social Work Day conference in London this afternoon, he also announced that a new joint 10-year workforce strategy that is currently being developed would not only cover the NHS but also social care.

At the event hosted by the British Association of Social Workers, he acknowledged the difficulties faced by staff who “struggle with fragmented services coming under unprecedented pressure”.

However, he also spelt out the need to tackle sub-standard care. “Too many people experience care that is not of the quality we would all want for our own mum or dad,” he said.

“Resolving this will take time. But that must not be an excuse to put off necessary reforms”

Jeremy Hunt

Meanwhile, the highlighted that the NHS was coming under increased pressure because of delays caused by social care.

“We need a relentless and unswerving focus on providing the highest standards of care – whatever a person’s age or condition,” he said.

“This means a commitment to tackle poor care with minimum standards enforced throughout the system, so that those using social care services are always kept safe and treated with the highest standards of dignity and compassion,” said Mr Hunt.

The green paper will follow a raft of other similar documents, inquiries and reports, which failed to result in clear policy or decisive action, especially when it came to the vexed question of how to fund social care going forward.

Mr Hunt, who admitted he felt “the weight of stalled reform programmes on my shoulders”, promised that the green paper would lead to action and, crucially, “jump start” the debate on funding.

“Resolving this will take time. But that must not be an excuse to put off necessary reforms,” he said. “Nor must it delay the debate we need to have with the public about where the funding for social care in the future should come from – so the green paper will jump-start this vital debate.”

“The government must now commit the funding to make good on these principles”

Jeremy Hughes

In the speech, he also set out seven key principles for reforming social care to be fleshed out in the document due out this summer.

These include “more control” for those receiving support, with a consultation to be held on extending rights to integrated personal budgets to those with greatest ongoing social care needs.

In addition, he promised improved practical support for families and carers and “whole person, integrated care”.

For example, a new £1m pilot in Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire will ensure all users of adult social care services get a joint health and social care assessment and care plan.

The seven principles of reform are:

  • Quality and safety embedded in service provision
  • Whole person, integrated care with the NHS and social care systems operating as one
  • The highest possible control given to those receiving support
  • A valued workforce
  • Better practical support for families and carers
  • A sustainable funding model for social care supported by a diverse, vibrant and stable market
  • Greater security for all – including those born or developing a care need early in life and for those entering old age who do not know what their future care needs may be

Mr Hunt said innovation, including making the most of new technology, would be central to all of these.

“We will not succeed unless the systems we establish embrace the changes in technology and medicine that are profoundly reshaping our world,” he said

“By reforming the system in line with these principles everyone – whatever their age – can be confident in our care and support system,” he said. “Confident that they will be in control, confident that they will have quality care and confident that wider society will support them.”

“We are also letting down far too many patients and other vulnerable members of our society”

Niall Dickson

The core principles were largely welcomed by health and social care organisations, but campaigners said the challenge would be ensuring that they happened in practice and were properly funded. Most also higlighted the financial difficulties currently being faced by councils.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said he hoped the seven principles would be more than “wishful thinking”.

“The government must now commit the funding to make good on these principles,” he said. “Without the necessary funding, vulnerable people will continue to struggle needlessly.

“By 2021, a million people in the UK will have dementia, and we need urgent action to create a system that can meet that challenge,” he said.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “Aspirations are not enough – we need a new [funding] settlement for both heath and care which reflects the reality of the current crisis and the enormous challenges ahead. 

“The reality is that for all the fantastic work by NHS frontline staff every day, we are also letting down far too many patients and other vulnerable members of our society,” he said. “We are expecting too much from too little.

NHS Confederation

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Niall Dickson

“Part of the answer does lie in clear proposals for the future of adult social care in England, and proposals to fund it – the two things go hand-in-hand,” he noted. “We have repeatedly said we cannot keep lurching from budget to budget with short-term fixes while ignoring the critical underlying issues.

Mr Dickson noted that the confederation had been working with the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation on a “comprehensive” study into the funding needs of the UK’s health and care systems for the next 15 years, with a report due to be presented at the body’s annual conference in June.

But he added: “We accept money is not enough. It is essential that NHS and social care systems operate as one and that needs reform.

“There are practical obstacles in governance, contracting, funding and data-sharing which prevent effective integrated working. The green paper and a wider settlement for health and care must address these urgent issues as well,” he said.

Lord Porter, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “We are pleased to see the government’s latest detail on how it intends to make adult social care fit for the future, which is one of our most pressing public priorities.

“The ‘seven pillars’ of the green paper reflect what we have long-called for, however, government should resist the temptation for major system reform,” he said.

But he added that what was “missing is the funding to turn that vision into reality”. “Appropriate funding must be the overriding priority for the green paper and we hope its broad scope will not detract from this focus,” he said.

Margaret Willcox, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “Those of us in the front line of social care know the quality of our staff and that they have been out in all weathers, working tirelessly in challenging circumstances to make sure that we get the care we need when we are in vulnerable circumstances

”What they desperately need is for their departments to be adequately funded and resourced so that they can do their jobs,” she said. “So, whilst it’s positive the adult social care green paper will look at the adult social care workforce, we must be clear – the challenges social care teams face are happening to our communities now, and urgent and interim funding is needed to address this shortfall right away.”

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