Amid the furore surrounding the Government’s legislation on NHS reform, the wheels have slowly been turning on reform in the social care sector.
At last week’s seminar on the future of social care held at The Care Show in London, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, Martin Green, said that engaging with government policy makers had never been more important. Peter Hay, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, and a member of the Department of Health’s listening exercise, NHS Future Forum echoed that sentiment.
It is no wonder that leading figures in social care are urging organisations and the wider public to engage. Social care is under huge strain and faces potentially huge changes in policy, particularly on funding and care home regulation.
The Dilnot Commission on the funding of social care has reported and its findings are being digested within the Department of Health. Local authority funding of social care was already being squeezed, but following the Budget, this is now being done with thumbscrews.
The sorry saga of the collapse of Southern Cross, in part a consequence of reduced local authority funding, has tainted politicians’ perceptions of care home providers. It has also prompted the House of Commons Health Select Committee to widen its inquiry into social care to examine the regulation of care homes in addition to future funding and personalisation. It will look into how to protect against the consequences of operators going bust, and we can expect some very public grilling of care home providers over the coming months.
The DoH published a discussion paper last week on the regulation of the social care market. It examines issues surrounding the risk of financial failure of large care home operators.
There is no guarantee that every care home will always remain open. Nor is the DoH looking to protect care home businesses. There will be no “moral hazard” of the sort that surrounds banks. If a care home operator becomes unviable as a business, it will ultimately be allowed to fail.
What the DH is groping for is a system that will help prevent failures like that of Southern Cross and allow for the orderly transition of care homes to new operators. It is looking for feedback on suggestions such as tougher regulation, more rigorous financial checks, or requiring operators to post bonds to cover for financial failure.
This is just to scratch the surface; the options for reform could reach into every aspect of social care and there is no shortage of contentious issues. Just when the Government gets its NHS reforms enacted (or ditched?), it will set itself up for another round of reform, policy proposals and, no doubt some heavy-duty controversy along the way.
There will be some serious policy boxing over the coming months, with round one commencing with publication of the social care White Paper next spring. Anyone with an interest in the future of social care should answer the calls to engage. Let’s just hope that the ring is big enough to hold us all.