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Finding long-term solutions to the challenges facing social care

As part of RCP’s work on the Health for Care campaign, ­­­­­Dr Jonathan Steel, RCP lead fellow for social care reflects on why the UK Government must fix social care.

Social care has long featured in ministerial in trays, yet long-term solutions have so far eluded ministers. Periodically, the government will find some additional funding to stabilise an increasingly precarious sector. COVID-19 has shown that we can’t keep papering over the cracks and structural issues need to be dealt with, with structural reforms. 

It was just over a year ago that the prime minister stood on the steps of number 10 Downing Street and promised that his government would be the one to ‘fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve’. 

Those of us in the NHS know just how difficult it is to deliver patient care when resources are stretched. This is the everyday reality for those working in social care and has been made worse by COVID-19. If we are ever to fulfil the ambition for a fully integrated health and social care system, it is vital that health organisations play their part in championing social care to make the case to government for a long-term financial settlement. 

That’s why the RCP is an active member of the Health for Care campaign led by NHS Confederation. This week the members of the campaign have written to the prime minister to once again urge him ‘to set out a timetable for reform which will both address the immediate crisis and result in comprehensive legislative proposals to place the sector on a sustainable footing’. 

The NHS and social care are often treated as two separate systems which operate independently of each other. Leaders in the NHS need to ensure that they routinely think through how their decisions impact on social care. We need local leaders to build stronger ties between the services which will ultimately benefit the public, patients and the workforce. 

For physicians, how much engagement we have with social care will vary significantly. Some of us may regularly work at the interfaces between the two services, some may spend part of their working week in care settings, others may only have to get involved when there is an issue and some may very rarely engage with social care. It is likely that as integrated care systems develop more of us may find ourselves working at the interfaces of the two systems. 

As part of the increased focus on social care and the growing recognition by the RCP of the need to ensure that we are playing our part, I recently took up a new role as the RCP’s lead fellow for social care. I’ve only been in the role a short time and I’ve spent my first few weeks chatting to people at the RCP and beyond. I’ve been struck by how unified everyone I’ve spoken to is about how those of us in the NHS must do more to secure long-term sustainable solutions to the challenges facing social care whether they be finance, workforce or provision. 

There is no time to waste and collectively we must continue to keep the pressure on the government to ensure that it brings forward its proposals and enacts them. 

If you want to help us shape the RCP’s work in this area, please get in touch and let’s chat. 

Dr Jonathan Steel, RCP lead fellow for social care.