A cap on the “punitive” costs faced by people requiring care is set to be included in the latest Government plan for reform of the system in Englandd, Jeremy Hunt indicated.
The Health and Social Care Secretary acknowledged there was an “illness lottery” which left people suffering from conditions such as dementia facing far bigger bills than others who need hospital treatment for cancer.
In a speech setting out his plans for a forthcoming Green Paper, Mr Hunt acknowledged that health and social care workers are faced with “fragmented services” and “unprecedented pressure”.
He said fixing the problems in the system would take time and acknowledged there had been “stalled reform programmes” in the past.
The question of how to fund care for Britain’s ageing population has proved politically difficult to answer, with Theresa May forced into an embarrassing U-turn over planned reforms announced during the 2017 general election campaign.
Mr Hunt told the audience of social work leaders in London: “The way that our current charging system operates is far from fair.
“This is particularly true for families faced with the randomness and unpredictability of care and the punitive consequences that can come from developing certain conditions over others.
“If you develop dementia and require long-term residential care, you are likely to have to lose a significant chunk of your savings and the equity in your home to pay for that care.
“But if you require long-term treatment for cancer you won’t find anything like the same cost.
“So people’s financial wellbeing in old age ends up defined less by their industry and service in their working lives and more by the lottery of which illness they get.
“We therefore need a system that includes an element of risk pooling.”
Asked if that meant a cap on costs would feature in the plans, Mr Hunt replied that it would.
And he acknowledged the financial pressures on the system since the Conservatives took office in 2010.
“I think we have to recognise that the social care system had a very, very tough time after 2010 when we had the financial crisis – the worst financial recession since the Second World War – funding was cut in an atmosphere where funding was cut in nearly all government departments.
“It’s now starting to rise, but it’s starting from a low base and that’s created real pressures in the social care system.”
Principles set out in the Green Paper include: the quality and safety of services, the integration of the health and social care systems, control for those receiving support, valuing the workforce, providing better practical support for families and carers, a sustainable funding model and ensuring greater security for all.
Setting out his reforms, Mr Hunt told an audience of health and social care leaders: “Too many people experience care that is not of the quality we would all want for our own mum or dad. ”
The Cabinet minister set out plans for a joint 10-year NHS and social care workforce strategy to align staff in both parts of the system.
He also announced a consultation to extend rights to integrated personal budgets to those with the greatest ongoing social care needs, to put more control in the hands of individuals and their families.
And he set out a £1 million pilot scheme in Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire to ensure users of adult social care are given a joint health and social care assessment and care plan.
Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Jeremy Hughes said the Government must now commit the funding to make good on the principles set out by Mr Hunt.
“Without the necessary funding, vulnerable people will continue to struggle needlessly,” he said.
“By 2021, a million people in the UK will have dementia, and we need urgent action to create a system that can meet that challenge.