It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, which I thank Norman Lamb for securing. We know he has a passion for this subject—in our many debates, we always take great account of what he says—so it was good to have him leading the debate. I think that other Members who have spoken—the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and for Bracknell (Dr Lee)—sat on a social care Bill Committee I sat on in the last Parliament, so we have some knowledge of the subject. I also thank Mr Clegg for kindly letting me go before him. I have a plane to catch, and sometimes these debates can go on.
Those who have spoken have brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to this debate, as will those who have not yet spoken, and I want to add a wee bit of that in relation to Northern Ireland, while commenting on the mainland as well. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Wanless review of social care for older people. Since the review, there have been attempts, first by the coalition Government and now by the Conservative majority Government, to shift the policy direction and introduce new legislation to optimise healthcare provision and make the system versatile enough to cope with the increasing demand associated with an increasingly elderly population—my constituency has one of the fastest-growing elderly populations. I am going that way myself, but that is by the by.
Despite the welcome efforts by the Government, problems remain. The challenges, not least the financial challenges, are making it more difficult to provide services for the elderly, and these challenges will be around for a while. We will need to learn how to address them as the demographics of the country make service provision for the elderly more challenging. We can foresee these challenges, however, and it is encouraging that the Government recognise that. It is good to see the Minister in his place, and I look forward to reading his contribution. I apologise to him and the shadow spokesperson for being unable to stay for their speeches, as I have already said, but we are always encouraged to see the Minister on his feet, given his interest in this subject.
The importance of an integrated health and social care system is widely accepted. We have seen exciting innovative developments in Northern Ireland, where the former Health Minister, my party colleague Edwin Poots MLA, launched the “Transforming Your Care” programme, which was continued by the next Health Minister, Jim Wells, and now by the present Health Minister, Simon Hamilton. The initiative seeks to move care for elderly people from hospital into their homes wherever possible. That is the focus and goal of the strategy. Not only does this provide care closer to home and a nicer experience all round for the patient, but it has the potential to save the NHS and the social care system a lot of money in the long run. The Minister might like to note that programme as an example of what is possible. If it was replicated nationwide, it could save a lot of money in the long run and make for a more personal social care experience that would benefit the elderly.
With the financial challenges of austerity in our public services, we need to come up with innovative ideas to modernise our health and social care system and offer a first-class service in a financially difficult environment. Whether we like it or not, finance is part of the system we have to work within. The importance of integrated health and social care is widely recognised by health professionals and charities. We now need to turn this into a reality. Adult social care needs to be on a sustainable financial path if we are to maintain a world-class health and social care system, during a time of changing demographics, and we need to make sure that the pressures on the system are properly understood.
The integration of health and social care is crucial to provide a patient-centred service that makes the best use of resources. With care and caution, and with movement in the right direction, it is possible to do more with less. Innovative approaches such as the “Transforming Your Care” initiative are examples of how we can modernise the public sector to deliver real results with a tighter budget. Health and social care need to be seen as equal partners and provided with the necessary resources to deliver high quality services that actually serve the people. “Resources” does not necessarily mean increased funding. We know that we are living in tough times financially, and while funding is always desirable, success should be judged on results rather than the bill for the investment.
Social care is important in its own right. The Local Government Association claims there is a continuing lack of proportionality between additional funding for the NHS and adult social care. While much of the funding for the NHS is front-loaded, additional resources from the better care fund will not be available until 2017. Can the Minister say whether it is possible to consider implementing the better care fund on a shorter timescale? We will not be facing problems down the road in 2017; we are facing them right now, as Members have said and will continue to say. The Government need to make a greater effort to address the issue and ensure that the social care sector is adequately funded and resourced as we seek to make the appropriate reforms to make it a versatile and modern service that delivers for the people that it needs to.