Nobody in Scotland can be surprised that the SNP’s merger of health and social care comes with a financial “black hole”. With both the NHS and social care being underfunded, merging these two public services can hardly be expected to resolve the problems they face.
As it stands, around 5 Scots die each week in our hospitals waiting on our underfunded councils to provide a care package. These plans can be complex, but can also be as trivial as fitting a handrail on someone’s bath at home.
The social care bottleneck consumes NHS resources and leads to “bed blocking”. To be fair to the SNP’s Health Secretary, Shona Robison, she said cutting the number of people stuck in hospital waiting for a care package to be arranged is an “absolute key priority” for the Scottish government. Indeed, she committed £100m to solving the problem (a few months earlier £5m was claimed to be enough).
On the 25th of February in a BBC interview Ms Robison said: “I want over the course of this year to eradicate delayed discharge out of the system and I am absolutely determined to do that.”
Indeed, the seriousness of the issue led to Ms Robison invoking Nicola Sturgeon’s name a few weeks earlier: “In presenting the Government’s programme for the year ahead, the First Minister made it clear that addressing delayed discharge is one of our key priorities and it is one to which I give my personal commitment.”
How have they done? Rather than eradicating bed blocking, the SNP reduced it by just 12% – Scots spent 580,919 days in hospital needlessly during 2015. Meanwhile in the community our care workers are often not even paid the living wage and home visits last just 15 short minutes. What ever happened to treating people with dignity?
It’s clear that the SNP are failing and continuing to underfund health and social care can’t be the solution. I hope that in the coming election campaign we see bolder solutions to tackling this problem and realism about the funding it needs.