Local Government and Social Care Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:00 pm, 24th April 2019

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but it seems to me that rural shires often have Conservative-led local authorities that provide their services more efficiently. In practice, if we ask a carer to go out to visit three elderly people in a morning, for example, and those houses are very close together, as they may be in Westminster, they will be able to visit, spend longer with them and have lower travel costs than they would if they had to visit three houses in my constituency, which covers 433 square miles and is all within the same county council.

As I was saying, when it comes to social care, this problem is in large part due to both the demographics and the distances involved. As I have said, my constituency spans 433 square miles and has a low population density, and there are longer travel distances for staff to deliver care. Furthermore, Sleaford and North Hykeham, as a rural area, has a higher number of older residents. Those older residents have worked hard their entire lives and now need support from our public services to ensure that they can maintain a higher quality of life.

However, this is not all about funding. Actually, I think it is sad that so much of the debate has focused almost entirely on who is going to provide the most money, while only a little bit has been on how to pay for it, and not so much on innovation and quality of care. The important thing is not shouting about who can spend the most money, but who can deliver the best outcomes and provide the best care for people, because that is surely what everybody on both sides of the House wants.

Last year, there was the launch of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care in Lincolnshire. This is a grouping of the NHS, the University of Lincoln, Health Education England, Public Health England and the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network. This pioneering group will look at improving how we deliver care in local areas.

There is also the social care and digital innovation programme, which is run by NHS Digital. This gives money for local projects, so somebody with a local project that they think could improve care for residents, if they had a little bit of start-up funding to test it, could receive money to support the design and trial of digital solutions to improve care and provide value for money. Previous projects include an exoskeleton device in the Isle of Wight to give people greater independence, and the provision of Amazon Alexa in Hampshire to help people to maintain independent living.

There are other projects, too. In Cornwall, Peninsula Community Health Services is looking at how to prevent pressure sores. We know that 500,000 people in this country develop a pressure sore every year. These are excruciatingly painful, can become infected and, in the worst cases, can lead to such a serious infection that the patient dies. The continuous pressure monitoring technology devices will be able to help people identify hotspots even before the skin damage occurs and prevent that from happening. That is an investment in something that, overall, will not just improve patient care but save money.

The Leeds Care Record looks at how information can be shared—data protection means that in some cases it is difficult to share information held by hospitals and GPs—and how referrals are made. When I first qualified as a doctor, all the letters were dictated and signed, but now they are typed and sent electronically. Cumbria, for example, saves £400,000 a year by sending referrals electronically. That also saves time, which means not only saving money but improving the efficiency of the service delivered to patients.

I am glad that the Government acknowledge the need to change the outdated funding formula, which has failed accurately to recognise the discrepancy in need between urban and rural areas; that need is often hidden in rural areas. As Ministers review the consultation findings, I hope they will ensure that the new funding formula adequately takes that into account.

Finally, as a member of the Conservative party, which has long been the best custodian of the public finances, I say that it is imperative that money is spent both wisely and efficiently. The issue of social care goes much wider than just funding. Despite the challenges facing local councils, I have seen at first hand how the brilliant work by North and South Kesteven District Councils and Lincolnshire County Council can support the people in my constituency and make our resources go as far as possible.