Responding to a shocking BBC Panorama episode exposing the crisis in social care, the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock sent a cursory tweet.
“Last night’s @BBCPanorama was extremely distressing and we must do more to support staff and patients as much as we can,” he tweeted, saying he “completely agree[s]” with a tweet from an Alzheimer’s Society representative calling on the government to do more:
Seems like a standard message trotted out by a politician trying to pay lip service to caring, right? Well, there’s more to it. Hancock’s use of the word “patients” is revealing. People under social care aren’t all patients: they’re clients, or service users. Their care is from the local authority, not the NHS or GP.
Yes, all these things are closely linked. You can be a patient and social care client at the same time. You are someone who needs care, after all.
But the difference is important. Many people who would be far better off with help from a properly funded social care system end up languishing in hospital unnecessarily, or for far longer than is necessary, because they cannot safely be discharged back to their home and community. Older people and those who have suffered mental health crises are key examples.
The fact that so many are “patients” when they shouldn’t be is an indictment of the system run by Hancock’s government, and a big, bed-blocking symbol of the false economy of council cuts.
That Hancock uses the language of the health service when referring to social care users exposes the government’s blindspot on this issue. Its green paper on funding adult social care has been delayed eight times since it was due to come out in the summer of 2017.
Instead of trying to address England’s biggest funding crisis, the government announced a headline-grabbing £20bn “70th birthday present” for the NHS last June. The health service is indeed stretched, but partly because of poorly structured and underfunded social care. It’s a knock-on effect. That’s why some Conservative MPs and councillors privately wished the government had funnelled some of that money to local authority social care budgets instead.
So Hancock’s tweet reveals far more than I’m sure he meant for it to say – as does the government’s silence on a problem that is endangering people, and pushing our councils and hospitals to breaking point.