UNISON: national care service ‘only way to prevent more deaths’

Social care should be free at the point of need as part of an NHS-based national system according to a report by the UNISON trade union.

The ‘Care After Covid: A Vision for Social Care’ report recommends the government undertakes fundamental reforms to a “fragmented, crisis-riven” sector to transform it into a national system.

UNISON said over time the vast majority of social care should be delivered through public funding and to substantially increase the direct public provision of social care.

A national system would remove “some of the differences in service quality between NHS and social care services” and would address a “glaring inequality around access to care built into the current care system”, it added.

In addition, UNISON argues a national system would enable care providers to have greater certainty over their funding streams and therefore to plan better for future needs, particularly in terms of workforce.

“Ultimately the goal should be to bring social care up to equivalent levels of equity and access as those associated with the NHS, and there should be a corresponding aim to bring about greater parity between health and social care in terms of pay and reward, training and development,” the report said.

“This would then hold out the possibility of fully integrating hospital and NHS community care with care homes and domiciliary care – in terms of both service delivery and pay systems – as part of a genuinely integrated national health and social care service, based on NHS principles,” it added.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including for everyone working in the care sector to undergo a minimum level of training to drive forward professionalisation and raise standards.

UNISON also called for care workers to be added to the government’s shortage occupation list. Many are from overseas but proposed immigration changes will “prevent anyone earning less than £25,600 from coming here”, it said.

In addition, UNISON argues, local authorities responsible for sourcing care for local residents should “only purchase services from providers that pay their taxes, recognise unions, provide staff with standard work contracts and pay at least the real living wage”.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea (pictured) said: “Social care is the forgotten frontline, but the time for talking is over. For too long the care system has been weighted towards price and profit. Nothing less than a national care service will suffice.

“The NHS must be its inspiration. Any reform must build on the few positives to come from the pandemic – that care staff are highly skilled people, providing quality care, despite the many challenges they face.