The Government must be bold and brave in 2020 – it’s time for meaningful health and care reform
Greg Allen, Chief Executive
Future Care Capital (FCC) is dedicated to stimulating debate about the future of health and care provision and being a catalyst for improving care. Included in this are the fundamental issues facing adult social care services and what it means to lead a healthy independent life.
2019 was dominated by the twists and turns in Parliament, as politicians debated our relationship with the European Union. Consensus was not achieved and the General Election produced a majority government that now seeks to deliver its manifesto commitments.
As 2020 starts, addressing health and care challenges must be at the top of the government’s domestic agenda. There is nothing blocking the government from establishing a longer-term vision for how it intends to deliver social care reform, in particular. The Prime Minister spoke about tackling the crisis in social care when he first addressed the country from the steps of Downing Street. More money is being committed to the NHS, but challenges remain, and winter pressures continue to stretch health and care professionals.
The test for the government is how it uses its large majority to follow through on its promise to reform health and care. A lack of investment in some parts of the country has contributed to growing health inequalities between wealthy and deprived communities.
To further improve healthy life expectancy, it will be for the government, together with businesses and civil society, to take action and show leadership. That’s why FCC has been working with a cross-party group of Parliamentarians, charity and industry leaders to develop a strategy that aims to extend healthy life expectancy in later life by five more years. If the strategy is to be successful, it will need to set out a response that addresses the specific health challenges faced by low-income communities to improve the nation’s overall healthy life expectancy in later life.
The government needs to be bold in delivering long-term health and care reform. A reshuffle is expected in the first two months of the year as the Prime Minister shapes the focus for his administration. In the first 100 days we need to see a clear direction of travel from him and his team. The NHS Funding Bill and social care reforms included in the Queen’s Speech do not go far enough in addressing some of the fundamental issues facing health and care provision today. For example, the government will need to do more to bring stability to the residential care sector, especially given the added budget pressures that increases to the Living Wage in April will have on already fragile providers.
FCC’s research in this area points to some of the challenges that must be addressed. In Data That Cares, we explored the growing instability of residential care provision in England. The report also highlights a gap in knowledge and understanding of social care demand and calls on the government to introduce a ‘Digital Duty of Care’ which would require public bodies to collect and publish high quality, interoperable data to enable real-time monitoring of provision and safeguarding of individuals. Politicians must grasp the need to address social care as a matter of urgency. Further delay to decisions on social care reform would represent a failure of leadership. Alongside the broad workforce challenge facing the NHS and social care around recruitment and retention, one specific element of social care reform that needs to be addressed is the support given to unpaid carers. These individuals are the backbone of our society, providing support to some of the most vulnerable. The government included a commitment in its manifesto to extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, but we believe more needs to be done. We have called on the government to enhance the rights of unpaid carers. Based on our research with YouGov, FCC recommended that Ministers commit to priority treatment for the most common mental and physical health issues developed in the course of undertaking a caring role.
In 2020, we will also be reiterating our FCC message about using existing assets to deliver better patient outcomes and additional investment in services. The government can harness the value of healthcare data if it commits to establishing a Sovereign Health Fund. Health and care data have the potential to generate significant value (in the broadest possible sense of the term). Now is the time for the government to explore the scope for recycling commercial value from the broad-ranging data assets the NHS controls to generate additional funds for healthcare provision to benefit individuals and improve the nation’s health long into the future.
Our charity looks forward to shaping the national conversation about what a 21st-century health and care system could look like, building on our previous research around data, technology and health innovation. The initiative must be seized in 2020. Further delay to much-needed health and care reforms will only deepen the long-term challenges we face right now.