Richard Leonard: Market based approach to care is creating a crisis

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard will call for the principles of the NHS to be extended to the social care system, as he warns that the market based approach is creating a ‘crisis.’

He is expected to call for radical change while leading a debate in Holyrood to mark the 70th anniversary of the health service. 

The recent collapse of the care firm Bield has drawn attention to the difficulties in the private social system. Falling revenues lead to Bield’s exit, which looks after 167 people and employs another 200. The company blamed cuts to social care spending by local councils, who have suffered the brunt of austerity in Scotland. The Scottish Government has cut council budgets by almost 10 per cent since 2010.

Leonard does not spell out an exact proposal, but his speech is clearly signalling a move towards a fully nationalised and integrated care system, along the lines of the NHS itself.

He is expected to say:

“The NHS is practical socialism in action. ‘Pure socialism’ as Bevan described it, and that in the end is the Labour party’s defining idea.  

“The heralding of the NHS 70 years ago meant the end of insurance stamps, the means test and endless queues.

“Medical care was no longer connected to ability to pay. General practitioners stopped having to compete for business, and joined forces as part of a medical team. It became a single service and a national service

“Commercial principles were replaced with collective action and public initiative. It is a powerful and an enduring idea which we will defend with every sinew in our bodies.

“But it is a powerful and enduring idea which should not simply be limited in its application to our National Health Service, but would be well applied in responding to growing demands to provide care for the elderly, where we are seeing commercial principles and a market based approach pulling us into a crisis.

“In the field of public transport too, and in the provision of energy supply and distribution and in housing.

“The possibilities are limitless. In 1948 with the country almost bankrupt the National Health Service was created. In 2018 it’s time that we began thinking big and acting radically again.”

The Accounts Commission sounded the alarm in April this year, when they warned that current spending by councils is not high enough to cope with Scotland’s rapidly ageing population. They have predicted that by 2025, up to 80 per cent of the entire council budget will need to be spent on education and social care, just to keep up with current demand.

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