BASW professional officer Joe Godden on Labour’s plans to launch an independent commission led by former Department of Health specialist Sir John Oldham to investigate how best to integrate health and social care.
This planned review of health and social care from Labour is a really positive step.
Establishing the commission, as well as shadow health secretary Andy Burnham’s proposals for bringing care together “whole person care, physical, mental and social care – in one service", are a recognition of the centrality of social care in wellbeing.
The current health service was established at a very different time, but is fundamentally based on a model of “curing” and treating illnesses.
Today, the majority of people in hospital beds are now older people, with holistic needs, who end up in hospital because of lack of health, social care and housing services in the community.
It is a crazy system that pays hospitals for medical interventions, but doesn’t pay for social support and prevention.
The concept of services being free at the point of delivery for health care, means testing and charging for social care has been both dodged and fudged for generations now and we applaud the commission for taking this on.
Nonetheless, at BASW, we do still worry about all that long grass near the fairway where so many previous reports have ended up, and we hold some very considerable concerns about the potential outcomes of the commission.
To date, there appears to be some mixed up thinking and evidence of a limited evidence base. Social workers are not put on the same status as health professionals, as they should be. We are the experts in assessing and co-ordinating needs in the community.
Many of the skills that Andy Burnham assumes that GPs possess that will be needed in the delivery of his vision are already fundamental to social work.
There is a real danger that treatment and care in the community will be seen from the medical perspective by the commission.
GPs are trained to be able to diagnose and treat health problems. Care is about many additional things: economic, social, environmental; family and wider relationships.
If health and social care was commissioned by local authorities, there is the potential for creating a person centred health and social care system, although BASW would want to see the evidence and research base for that.
BASW plans to engage with the review; but on behalf of social workers and the extensive experience we have of social care, we will challenge where necessary.
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