Health and social care organisations have warned the government not to kick the issue of social care funding “into the long grass”, following the absence of a full bill on the issue from today’s Queen’s Speech.
The Queen’s Speech announced that a “draft bill” would be published during the next session of Parliament to “modernise adult care and support in England”. A draft bill is published to enable consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny ahead of the likely tabling of a full bill.
As a result, the much anticipated bill to overhaul social care funding looks set to be put back until next year and publication of a white paper, previously mooted for release by Easter, now due in early summer.
A source close to the government told HSJ that the bill would instead feature in the third session of Parliament, due to start in spring 2013, and a white paper would be published during the next few months, accompanied by a “progress report” on funding.
The source said “a lot of work” was going on around the bill and insisted that the government was “not kicking it into the long grass”.
Growing realisation that a full bill, including legislation on social care funding, would be absent from the Queen’s Speech sparked an open letter to David Cameron on Tuesday signed by more than 80 organisations including the Local Government Association, Carers UK and Age UK.
The letter called on the prime minister to take forward social care reform as his “personal mission”.
Age UK charity director general Michelle Mitchell urged the government not kick the bill “into the long grass”.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of older people – because they’re not getting the care at home that they need – going in to hospital earlier,” she said.
Meanwhile, Foundation Trust Network chief executive Sue Slipman warned that older people faced a “double threat” from cutbacks by councils and “economies” within the NHS.
She said: “Health and welfare agencies need to work together to provide the care that patients want and need. But a willingness to work together has to be underpinned by solutions as to where the money to fund this will come from.”
As under the previous government, the funding model continues to be the sticking point, though cross party talks on resolving the issue are taking place. Similar talks collapsed acrimoniously in 2009 over the use of the phrase “death tax”.
Social care reform recommendations were published last year by both the Dilnot Commission and the Law Commission.
Following the Queen’s Speech, NHS Confederation deputy chief executive David Stout said: “The announcement of today’s draft Care and Support Bill will bring some hope to elderly people and their carers. But draft legislation means that political agreement on this issue is still some way off.
“Our current model of social care is broken and we desperately need a long-term, sustainable resolution if we are to avoid further negative impact on local government and NHS services. We cannot emphasise enough just how critical it is to create a sustainable and high quality solution.”
He added: “We urge the government to treat this issue as a real priority. None of us - patients, carers, staff or government - can afford for this to be kicked into the long grass again.”
Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Sarah Pickup said: “We very much welcome the inclusion in the speech of a process that will move us forward positively towards legislation.
“But we also very much urge government to recognise the urgency of the situation we face, maintain its momentum, and pick up the issue of adult social care as a key priority as the next spending review approaches.”
Sir Merrick Cockell, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “The announcement of a draft bill in the Queen’s Speech is a positive step towards addressing the very real crisis we are facing in providing care to our rapidly aging population.
“We understand that reform is not an easy problem to solve and we know that reform comes with a price tag. But we believe it’s a price worth paying.
“It’s now time for all parts of government to come together to ensure reform, with appropriate funding, is done right. “