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Former Matt Hancock adviser says social care must be 'free at point of use' after coronavirus crisis

Thousands of care homes have reported cases of the virus

3 min read

A former adviser to Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged ministers to make social care "free at the point of use" in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Richard Sloggett, who recently served as a special adviser to the Cabinet minister, said the pandemic had exposed the need for "historic funding barriers" between the NHS and social care to be removed, amid mounting criticism of the government's efforts to stop the spread in care homes.

The intervention comes after over 2,000 care facillities reported cases of the virus, with staff warning of critical shortages of personal protective equipment and a lack of access to testing.

Mr Hancock has already announced further measures to protect care staff and their patients, including testing all care home residents who show symptoms of the disease.

But in a new report for think tank Policy Exchange, Mr Sloggett said the impact of the virus had raised "fundamental questions" about the way social care is funded in the UK.

And he urged ministers to use low borrowing costs to press ahead with a long-term overhaul of the sector.

The former adviser said using changes in the tax system to make social care free at the point of use for older patients and those with longer term care needs could leave a "positive legacy" from the coronavirus crisis.

"Social care is now struggling with yet another burden placed on a system that has been creaking for many years," he said.

"Carers in residential settings, in particular, are being pushed to the limit as they struggle to contain outbreaks among a population that is most at risk.

"Seventy years after the founding of the NHS, the Government should use the COVID 19 crisis to remove the barrier between the NHS and social care."

Mr Sloggett added: "As with the NHS it should introduce new measures in the tax system to fund it largely free at the point of use for those older and working age people who require long-term chronic care.

"This will address a funding divide which no longer makes sense and would generate a positive legacy from this terrible virus."

The report comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £1.3bn emergency fund to create 15,000 social care places in a bid to free up hospital beds during the crisis.

But Mr Sloggett said the fund, while welcome, demonstrated the impact of longer-term underfunding of the sector.

Instead, his report calls on ministers to consider using available capacity in newly set-uo Nightingale hospitals as a temporary step for coronavirus patients leaving hospital before returning to care homes.

The report's call has been welcomed by the LGA, which represents councils across the country.

The LGA's Ian Hudspeth said: “Social care as a whole has been desperately underfunded for decades and we have been consistently calling for a cross-party consensus on the future of care and how we pay for it, long before the coronavirus crisis.

“This report echoes our own calls about how social care should be on an equal footing with the NHS. People of all ages should be able to live the lives they want to lead and we are pleased the Government previously announced it was to begin cross-party talks, as part of finding a long-term, sustainable solution for adult social care."

He added: “What we also need more immediately is urgent access for all social care staff to reliable and ongoing supplies of quality PPE, increased rapid and comprehensive testing and greater support with staffing and other equipment, if we are to defeat this disease.”

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