In his maiden speech, the newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the public his Government “will fix the crisis on social care once and for all.”
Other promises of “better education” here and “fantastic new road and rail infrastructure” there were thrown into the mix – an ambitious speech for a man whose ultimate life-long ambition had just been fulfilled.
Of course, as with everything else in his speech, critics took this with a pinch of salt.
In a recent editorial for The Times, “Another £1.8bn for the NHS, then I’ll tackle social care”, Johnson suggested that, as was the case with his predecessors, social care has to settle for ‘footnote’ status.
In the article, he reflected on the “nurses, doctors and experts” at a local hospital who treated him after he stepped on broken glass in his garden, but only spared four sentences on social care at the end of the piece. Even then, the paragraph that was supposed to focus on social care shifted the conversation back to how Johnson’s Government will prioritise and “ensure that the NHS has the funding it needs to continue to be one of the best healthcare services in the world.”
Whether intentional or not, it could be argued that the “injustices” of social care, as Johnson describes, are not a high priority for this Government.
Yes, the NHS is strained but some of that pressure can be relieved if the issues surrounding social care are tackled bravely, openly and without further delay.
Yet, despite promises and hopes for a new dawn, it appears as though social care will remain an afterthought.
It’s not going anywhere
As Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has conceded, there is no cross-party consensus on how to best tackle social care, which is often a hotly contested debate. It is such a controversial issue that most candidates avoided the topic outright during the recent Conservative Party leadership contest – but it’s not going away.
All eyes on Johnson
In his Times article, Johnson wrote he was “overwhelmed by the care and the kindness and the professionalism of the NHS.” But those same qualities also describe the social care workforce who he seems to have left behind.
Tackling social care is no mean feat – Theresa May tried in the 2017 General Election, which was branded the “Dementia Tax”. It is therefore no surprise that Johnson is approaching this issue with caution.
Safer votes in the Labour v Conservative battleground can be found in helping the NHS but both parties know that social care can cost votes. It is therefore no coincidence that 12 of 20 hospitals that are part of Johnson’s immediate NHS funding pledge are in Leave-voting constituencies such as Boston, Great Yarmouth and Stoke-on-Trent, as the Telegraph points out.
But Johnson must acknowledge that social care needs to be one of his priorities right now. It is a domestic issue that needs immediate funding alongside a long-term plan that is well thought through.
With an increasing older population with complex needs, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. It will take time to form a plan that tackles the real issues at the heart but there is one issue that can be tackled right now – funding. If Johnson can find the money to provide a solution – albeit temporary – to help ease the pressure on the NHS within a week in office, critics would argue he should also be able to find the spare cash to relieve social care’s pressure while a plan is devised and implemented.
All eyes may be on whether Johnson can deliver Brexit, but the sector will be watching the new Prime Minister closely to see whether he truly overhauls the social care system, or sweeps it under the rug because it’s just too difficult.