The newly minted Department for Health and Social Care headed by Jeremy Hunt, has been augmented by the appointments of Caroline Dinenage MP and Stephen Barclay MP (with the fate of departing minister Philip Dunne MP surely sealed by his disastrous appearance in the House this week).
Presumably there is need for an additional minister in the health team as a result of the extended brief of social care. However it is unclear as yet what the reality of this is. Previously responsibility was effectively split between three departments; The Cabinet Office had been in charge of coming up with a lasting solution to how to fund care for elderly people; the health department had been responsible for social care policy; and funding sat with the Department for Communities and Local Government
The explicit addition of Social Care to Health does mean that Hunt now has wrested responsibility from the Cabinet Office for the social care green paper, due this summer, which will set out the government’s consultative proposals for reforming care and support for older people in England. This could perhaps indicate that we may finally see some actual integration and joined up provision of health and social care (as is already the case in Scotland, and as is so desperately needed in England.) While the original ambition for this work was “to incorporate the wider networks of support and services which help older people to live independently, including the crucial role of housing and the interaction with other public services”, in the hands of DH, it is likely that this will now become much more narrowly focused on NHS cost savings by using social care to free up hospital beds.
Further clues on this front lie in the appointment of Stephen Barclay, an MP with substantial financial knowledge but little health experience. (Read our biographies here) The need to get a grip on the dire state of NHS and social care funding means some sound financial input and strong leadership may give cause for hope. While May’s reshuffle seems only to have eroded her authority and even weakened her position, Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to back away from the NHS means he is currently one of the strongest players in government. And while he has the unenviable task of trying to steer the NHS into relative safety, he has arguably more power than ever before, with significantly more leverage for his ambitions for a long-term funding plan for the NHS.