If not now, then when? Crisis must bring change, says Council Leader

The Leader of Somerset County Council is urging action to secure the future of social care in the wake of COVID-19.

Councillor David Fothergill has written to the Secretary of State saying that social care nationwide is at a ‘watershed’, with Coronavirus exposing its fragile state after decades of funding that has failed to match increasing demand.

Cllr Fothergill’s plea comes 12 months after the first Panorama ‘Crisis in care’ documentaries were broadcast to an audience of millions. Filmed with Somerset’s Adult Social Care teams it generated national headlines and pushed the issue to the top of the political and public agenda.

His letter calls for Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to ensure that the crisis kick-starts long-awaited reform to deliver secure, sustainable funding and parity with health services.

“Crisis in Care brought momentum and hope,” said Cllr Fothergill, who is also the County Councils Network spokesman on Adult Social Care. “Yet we entered the Coronavirus crisis no closer to reform than when Panorama first walked through our doors.

“Nationally, social care is at a watershed, what happens next will be critical to its future. It’s not just about money, we need reform that looks at social care and health as one service and treats them equally.

“In Somerset, on the ground the collaboration between care and health has been fantastic, but that’s despite the system we work in, not because of it.

“Coronavirus has shown the sector to be heroic but fragile – underfunded and undervalued by successive governments over decades. The need for change has never been clearer and you have to ask yourself, if not now, then when?”

The two, hour-long Panorama documentaries were filmed over ten months and captured the incredible human stories, pressures and difficult decisions made every day in the care system.

The County Council received praise for championing social care reform from across local government. Plaudits came from, amongst others, the Local Government Association, the County Council Network and the Secretary of State himself.

Cllr David Williams, Chair of the County Councils Network, said: “Whilst addressing the Coronavirus pandemic has taken clear precedence over the last few months, the need to reform social care still remains pressing – not least in light of the challenges faced by the sector.

“Social care has been thrust firmly into the spotlight during the pandemic; showing that the NHS and care are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, the government should not shirk difficult questions as to how we as a nation pay for adult social care and set out reform to the system so it is sustainable and a local service – with councils firmly at the heart of this.”

Somerset has paid a 10 per cent increase to all care home providers to help them stay financially viable through the crisis, amounting to £1m per month for a minimum of three months.

Working closely with health colleagues, it has also helped the care sector access PPE, funding 70 per cent of the costs – anticipated to be around £9m.

Around 38 per cent of Somerset County Council’s net budget is spent on Adult Social Care, that’s £131m. There is also £36m of unpredictable grants that are not permanent and make running the service challenging to plan into the future.

Somerset Adult Social Care services support around 6,500 people with home, residential or nursing care.

By 2039, it’s predicted that 32 per cent of Somerset’s population will be people aged 65 and over, compared to 24 per cent nationally.

The Local Government Association estimates that by 2025 the national adult social care funding gap will be around £3.5billion.

The Panorama episodes are still available to watch via iPlayer at:
Episode 1: Crisis in Care – Part 1: Who Cares? https://bbc.in/2JLDvOu

Episode 2: Crisis in Care – Part 2: Who Pays? https://bbc.in/2Z8iscK