Exmouth Journal/Sidmouth Herald
The issue I have most been preoccupied with since returning to the backbenches has been the debate about social care provision.
Our local clinical commissioning group is already consulting on the possible closure of community beds across Devon but with social care so under strain just how will our elderly be cared for? I am not against a reconfiguration of our local NHS per se – in fact I have been pushing hard behind the scenes to get the new Budleigh hub up and running which I’m glad to say is now happening - but I am deeply concerned that we are putting the cart before the horse.
Here at Westminster the wheels turn slowly. Often it’s not a single shot that works but a spraying of bullets. To that end I called a debate on health provision in Devon, lobbied all the relevant ministers including the Secretary of State, asked numerous questions in Parliament and even wrote to the Chancellor before the Autumn statement to increase budgets to local councils to pay for social care. He declined partly because he was concerned that the JAMS - the just about managing, as our Prime Minister likes to call them – would be affected. Since then I have been joined by a string of MPs that have also expressed their dismay. Senior doctors, council leaders including those at Devon County Council, two former Health Secretaries and the Labour front bench, have also come together to lobby for more money. This should no longer be considered a party political matter; it is a national crisis. By the next election there will be a million more people over the age of 75 and the care system to meet their needs is on the verge of collapse.
We are now hearing that rules on council tax are expected to be changed to allow rates to rise to meet the most urgent social care shortfalls. But this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. And besides, analysis is showing that it would require very large increases in council tax to meet the growing funding gap. If a council is coming up for election it might be reluctant to put through the rises anyway. Using the precept to raise money would also result in a postcode lottery already widening existing inequalities. Any short-term measure has to be followed by fundamental reform, which I believe should include a new settlement, one that ends the divide between NHS, and social care systems as both, at present, have separate bureaucracies and funding systems. Political consensus is also needed for any reforms to be bedded in.
I’m glad I have played a small part in bringing the debate forward but there is still a long way to go. Ultimately, this is a wealthy country and it should be a good one to grow old in.