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The local and national crisis in health and social care

Few people can be in doubt about the enormous crisis our beloved NHS is facing, and the plight of adult social care.  Here in North Yorkshire, despite a higher than average population of over-65′s, and the number set to grow as a proportion of our population over the coming years, North Yorks County Council has to find an additional £42 million cuts to services over the next three years.  That is in addition to the £100 million cuts already made since 2010.

How can this be achieved without seriously compromising the care that elderly and vulnerable adults receive?  I don’t think it can, and a second decade of austerity is simply not sustainable to my way of thinking.  Local council budgets have been hacked to the marrow and there is little scope to actually make meaningful and responsive local decisions anymore, such is the level of national Government centralisation.

A sight that some of us may have seen since the Autumn is ambulances queuing at A & E and patients waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors. Some of us will have seen the situation at first hand, waiting with a relative or waiting for treatment. Bed occupancy has been dangerously high in many hospitals, with senior managers and doctors having to take decisions that, in some instances, are literally life or death.

Upsetting as these images are, they show only the tip of a very large iceberg that is threatening to sink an NHS and the social care system unable to cope with demand.

Now, to add more pressure to services, the Conservative Government has imposed the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC), which from next month will charge employers, including those in health and social care, who bring in doctors and nurses from abroad on a Tier 2 visa, £1000 a year. This may not seem a large amount of money, but it adds up to £3.5m for doctors, £1.6m for trainee doctors and £0.65m for nurses. This is money diverted away from the front line and could discourage employers from recruiting essential staff.

Liberal Democrats are clear that we must find £4bn right away to address the current funding crisis in health and social care. In the budget statement last week, all that we got was the promise of £2bn over three years for social care and a bit extra for A&E. That is simply not enough.   I look forward to the final report of the independent commission on funding of health and social care, set up by Norman Lamb MP to find a long term sustainable solution.

It’s time politicians stopped using health and care as political footballs, and the national Government stopped starving local councils of funding to address their own specific issues in their own areas.  The crisis facing our NHS and care system is not going to diminish anytime soon if things remain as they are.