The coronavirus pandemic has revealed how “broken” the social care system is, and it would be “immoral” not to reform it, former health secretary Andy Burnham said.
A new approach, more closely integrating the social care system with the NHS, is the only way to cope with the challenge of an ageing society, said Mr Burnham.
It is an approach being used in Greater Manchester, where Mr Burnham is mayor, where there is a much closer relationship and a developing “sense of a single system”.
Debates around the future of social care have largely focused on the mounting cost of an ageing population.
But Mr Burnham warned that it would be a “waste of money” to introduce a new tax or levy to fund the system without fundamental changes to the way care was delivered.
The Labour politician told the PA news agency: “I feel that, for the first time since I’ve been raising issues around social care, I think the country can now see how broken it is.
“I think that’s one thing that 2020 did reveal, the disparity between hospitals and care homes. Back in April that was really clear, wasn’t it?
“I hope that people will demand reform of social care coming out of this.
“Because, as we’ve always kind of said, another pandemic could hit any time and to let social care go into another pandemic in this state is immoral.”
Mr Burnham said he would want to work with NHS England to strengthen the idea of a single system.
That could involve the NHS directly commissioning social care, or working with trusted providers – something which could also drive up pay, standards and training in the industry.
But the debate had become bogged down with how to raise extra funds and prevent people being forced to sell their homes and lose their savings if they need care.
“It kind of puts finance first before it even thinks about delivery,” Mr Burnham said.
“What we’re trying to do in Greater Manchester is do it the other way around.
“If you think about delivery differently you will then work out what your financial gap is, what you need to put into this system.”
He added: “In the century of the ageing society you cannot continue to think of social as being separate to physical and mental. You have to have a system that can see the whole person.
“If social care was placed within the NHS it would allow the NHS to act more preventatively than it currently does, it would allow the NHS to work more in the home and up front and less as a crisis service when everything else has failed.”
Mr Burnham, who had a very public clash with Boris Johnson’s Government over placing Greater Manchester into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions, said there were people within the administration who understood the social care crisis.
Care Minister Helen Whately “seems to get it”, he said, but “I just hope it’s understood at the very highest levels as well”.
Setting out what had been achieved so far in Greater Manchester, where health funding is devolved, Mr Burnham said there were closer ties between the NHS care providers.
That meant hospitals were able to loan personal protective equipment to care homes at the height of the pandemic “which probably doesn’t happen anywhere else”, because “there’s trust in the system, there’s relationships between the social care world and the NHS”.
A version of the hospital operational pressures escalation levels (Opel) system, used to measure demand and pressure in the system, was also introduced for social care so see how “it was coping or where there were warning signs within that system”.
These were relatively modest measures but “rather than a fragmented landscape of providers, which is social care normally – there’s an attempt here to sort of look at it as a system, and manage it a bit more as a system, linking to the NHS.
“So those are the kind of things that are probably not happening in the same way as other parts in other parts of the country.”