Scotland’s health secretary has pledged a future SNP government will ‘create a national care service’, saying the independent review of adult social care is paving the way to making it happen.
The review, which is being headed by former NHS Scotland boss Derek Feeley, was announced in September and has been taking evidence since then. It is set to report by January 2021.
Speaking at the SNP’s online conference over the weekend, Jeane Freeman said the work of the review would ‘help us create a national care service’.
Meanwhile, the party said on Twitter that it was ‘paving the way for a national care service’.
The remarks represent a shift from when the review was announced when Ms Freeman said the independent review would “consider the idea” of a national care service.
There had been increasing support from politicians for creating a national care service, with former cabinet minister Angela Constance stating this should be “on a par” with the NHS.
However, it is not clear what the proposal would mean for private and third sector care providers that are responsible for the vast majority of care in Scotland.
And Dr Donald Macaskill, head of representative body Scottish Care, is warning the plans could limit individual choice about their care.
“It is our understanding thus far that the review is considering all options for reform and development including the creation of a national care service,” he said.
The share of private care homes in the sector has grown steadily over the last decade, a trend experts say has been driven by a shortage of government funding.
Dr Macaskill said: “Whilst Scottish Care supports reform which enables national consistency – for instance around staff pay, terms and conditions – we believe that there are significant challenges in the creation of a national care service, not only in its inception but also what type of care it would deliver.
“The importance of giving people choice and control over the care they receive is central to social care.
“We have long argued that the creation of a national care service should not follow a one size fits all model which replicates the NHS.
“Doing so fails to recognise the differences between social care and healthcare, which whilst integrated and related, should be acknowledged as delivering quite distinct forms of support.
“Whilst a one size fits all model may be suitable for emergency and acute healthcare, it is simply not suitable for life-long services like social care.
“Using such a model risks an infringement of human rights by removing options for individuals, citizen choice and control.
“It would ultimately remove positive opportunities for diversity between care providers based on the distinctiveness of the care that they offer, which reduces the choices that individuals and communities have over what care and support they need and want.”
At the SNP conference, Ms Freeman also reiterated a pledge to scrap all charges for social care in people’s homes if the SNP wins the May 2021 Holyrood elections, as polls suggest is overwhelmingly likely.
This would be done “by the end of the next parliament”, Ms Freeman said, which is set to run to 2026.
Ms Freeman is one of several SNP cabinet ministers who have said they are stepping down at the next election.
Personal care is currently free for all after Frank’s Law extended eligibility to under-65s in April 2019.
But the First Minister last year promised to go further and scrap remaining charges for in-home support that is classed as ‘non-personal’.
This includes services like community alarms, meals on wheels and help with housework.