Labour conference: Integration call leaves questions over social care funding


theweeksubLabour’s shadow health secretary has called for the NHS and the social care system to be “fully integrated”, but has failed to explain how a Labour government would fund his vision of “whole person care”.

Andy Burnham told a fringe meeting at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton that he wanted to “renew the NHS vision for the 21st century”, and see more “high quality, home-based, integrated care in the home”, something that would imply “major changes for hospitals”.

He said: “By fully integrating health and social care we will create a situation where we will have one service looking after the whole person, a national health and care service.”

But he provided little more detail than he had done in speeches at last year’s conference, where he had suggested the party should consider “full integration of health and social care”.

Burnham said that investing “up front” in social care would be “much better value for money” than the current system, which sees people “drifting to hospitals in ever greater numbers”.

And he attacked the “dementia tax”, his term for the sharp rises in local authority care charges under the current government.

He said: “As social care is cut at the moment those charges are going up… more people are paying charges and the charges are going up.

“Surely dementia taxes are the cruellest of all charges because they seek out the vulnerable. They wipe out people financially.”

He did not lay out any details of how a Labour government would fund a more generous social care system, but added: “In the end maybe you have to pay more for it, but in the end you get what you pay for.”

His comments came as provisional figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that spending on adult social care in England fell by two per cent in real terms to £17.1 billion in 2012-13, compared with the previous year.

In his main speech to conference, Burnham criticised the care provided to older people, in the “malnourished, minimum-wage social care system dishing out care in 15-minute slots where there’s barely time to make a cup of tea let alone exchange a meaningful word”.

The speech repeated his message from last year’s conference, at which he had called for an end to the “care lottery”, and attacked a social care system that allowed care workers to be “exploited in a cut-price, minimum wage business”.

He again talked almost exclusively about the care needs of older people, and told the fringe meeting only that the issues concerning working-age disabled adults were “very difficult”, and that there needed to be “a better debate about that”.

Labour party activist Gavin Harding, the first person with learning difficulties to be elected as a councillor, told Burnham that there needed to be regulation of the public bodies that were commissioning services.

He warned that – in the wake of the Winterbourne View abuse scandal – the government was now shipping people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions out of assessment and treatment centres and to new homes out of their local areas, which meant there was not enough time “to get the right support and the right housing”.

25 September 2013