Hot Take: Is a National Care Service a really bad idea?
Caring Times editor Lee Peart considers how Humza Yousaf's election in Scotland could prompt renewed calls for a National Care Service.
Scotland’s election of former health secretary Humza Yousaf as its new first minister this week has once again brought the issue of a National Care Service to a head.
The National Care Service was launched by Yousaf as his flagship policy in his previous role as health secretary in 2021 with the proud claim of being “the most ambitious reform of public services since the creation of the NHS”.
The broad vision of the reform is to make sure that everyone has access to high quality social care when they need it and to provide proper support to the social care workforce.
The system, which is scheduled to be launched by 2026, would be directly accountable to Scottish ministers and run similarly to the NHS through regional boards.
The move has been panned by care providers, opposition parties and unions, however, who have variously branded it as a vastly undercosted ‘power grab’ by central government.
Costs have been estimated at up to £1.25 billion by the government but analysis by Audit Scotland suggests the bill is likely to be far higher.
Since his election Yousaf has come under immediate pressure to delay the plans or scrap them altogether.
During his leadership campaign, the former health secretary pledged to look again at the plans if elected and compromise where necessary. His critics will be watching closely to see if he is good to his word.
Meanwhile, the idea of a National Care Service has gained some traction south of the border with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting having commissioned the Fabian Society to look into how it could be funded and structured.
Labour wants to use the legislation to bring private equity owners to book when they fail to provide adequate levels of care as well as guarantee fair pay, workers’ rights and training.
Independent Care Group chairman Mike Padgham has backed the idea of a fully integrated National Care Service arguing it would reduce bureaucracy and create a “single, unified service for all the population”.
While the current proposals for a National Care Service remain light on detail and not without flaws, there is some merit in the concept.
A National Care Service could provide a “single, unified” voice that the sector sadly currently lacks and which is needed to achieve some sort of parity with the NHS and ensure it is no longer the neglected ‘Cinderella service’.
Additionally, having a national body responsible for the sector could increase its public profile and improve public understanding of how the system works, which is sorely lacking.
Furthermore, the move could provide government accountability when the system fails and also help embed consistent levels of care as well as a national benchmark for pay, training and qualifications, as well as a minimum fee for the true cost of care.
While the debate will rage on over what form a National Care Service could take, the creation of a single body able to represent all its stakeholders, including service users, workers and providers alike, is an idea worth pursuing.