Conservative conference: Hunt hints at more delays on care funding


The new health secretary has suggested there could be further delays to reform of the funding of long-term care and support.

Speaking at the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham this week, Jeremy Hunt said he wanted to transform care for older people, and particularly those with dementia, but failed to mention working-age disabled people.

Hunt, a former shadow minister for disabled people, also spoke of facing up to “some hard truths about how we are going to pay for social care”, and said he wanted to implement the cap on social care costs recommended by the Dilnot review on adult social care funding “as soon as we are able”.

After his speech, a spokeswoman for Hunt said he “accepts the general thrust” of the Dilnot recommendations but wanted to “look in more detail at what is affordable and workable and the best way of doing that”.

Hunt was reported to have said at one fringe event this week that the costs of the Dilnot recommendations were too high and that it might take “years” to find the right solution to funding reform, but Hunt’s spokeswoman insisted that he wanted to find an answer “as soon as we possibly can” and that care reform was “clearly a priority for him”.

She said he also wanted to reach cross-party consensus, because there was “no point in doing something that could change at the next election”.

As well as capping the costs of long-term care for older people, the Dilnot report includes proposals to introduce free care and support for all those with “eligible needs” who become disabled before the age of 40.

Hunt’s spokeswoman said there was no change in the government’s position on this issue. The Department of Health has said it supports the idea of an age cap “in principle”, but the age at which this cap might be set had not yet been decided, and could be higher – at 45, for example – or lower.

The Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow, who was sacked last month as care services minister, has blamed the chancellor, George Osborne, and his civil servants in the Treasury, for the government’s failure to deliver funding reform.

Burstow’s successor as care services minister, Norman Lamb, said last month that funding reform was a “top priority” for Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, while Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, told a Labour conference fringe meeting last week that he was committed to cross-party discussions.

Hunt also said in his main conference speech this week that he had asked both Department of Health civil servants and the Care Quality Commission – the health and adult social care watchdog – how to hold managers accountable for poor care.

Among the concerning examples of poor care he pointed to was the mistreatment of people with learning difficulties at Winterbourne View, a private hospital near Bristol, where widespread abuse was exposed by the BBC’s Panorama programme.

Hunt said: “We have many committed managers in hospitals and care homes. But I need to say this to all managers: you will be held responsible for the care in your establishments.

“You wouldn’t expect to keep your job if you lost control of your finances. Well don’t expect to keep it if you lose control of your care.”

11 October 2012