Latest blog from our CEO: A human right to health and care?

A human right to health and care?

In my role as CEO I often get invitations to go to events and seminars furth of Scotland. As a rule I tend to turn down the vast majority of such invites feeling that they are not directly pertinent to the work of Scottish Care. Last week, however I accepted an invitation to join a small group of economists, senior Government officials from the four nations, and policy experts to explore and contribute to the latest research on how we should fund/finance health and social care in the United Kingdom. Organised in London by the Health Foundation and Rand Europe, during the seminar a group of twenty of us explored the various developing ‘options’ and their relative attributes.

How we finance health and social care in the years and decades ahead is an important issue faced as we are with the potential of a growing number of healthy older individuals and fewer and fewer people of working age to contribute through direct taxation. The technical debate on the relative merits of  individual insurance, direct taxation and mixed contribution modelling etc was all very challenging but what I was left with on the way home after the meeting was a whole range of thoughts on the inequality of our treatment of health and social care.

It is part of our practice and policy DNA to know that NHS services are free at the point of access. Indeed the NHS was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. When it was launched by the then Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan, on July 5 1948, it was based on three core principles:

  • that it meet the needs of everyone
  • that it be free at the point of delivery
  • that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

So today nearly 70 years later we would not expect to pay for a hospital bed or an A&E consultation or a GP visit. Indeed in Scotland even services we once paid for are now free, such as prescriptions. In that sense they are universal.

The First Minister has stated her particular desire to see that in terms of human rights in Scotland we will be able to do ‘even more, even better’ (See speech https://news.gov.scot/speeches-and-briefings/snap-human-rights-innovation-forum, December 2015). She at that moment and subsequently has encouraged the consideration that Scotland might become the first part of the United Kingdom to consider embedding the ‘right to health’ as part of our legislative framework. See a fuller description of this debate at http://www.healthscotland.scot/media/1276/human-rights-and-the-right-to-health_dec2016_english.pdf

Now what a ‘right to health’ might mean in practice and for those who access as well as deliver health services is open to much debate. But in this debate what has been noticeably absent is a consideration of how should that right to health relate to social care.

I have written elsewhere (https://www.scottishcare.org/scottish-care-news/blogs/lessons-from-a-boiler-breakdown/) about how integration has enabled us in Scotland to start to embed a whole system approach to the health and care impacts which an individual experiences, for good or ill, during their lifetime. Indeed I am increasingly of the opinion that one of the barriers to truly focusing upon the person is our continued encampment in health and social care camps. Whether it be the lack of fully pooled budgets, a split workforce strategy, an over-emphasis on one part than the whole, we are some way off from effective integrated working. But for individual citizens whether it’s from the NHS or a care home we receive our care is of less concern to than is the quality and essence of the care received.

In practice and policy we are a long distance from a Wellbeing Service incorporating health and social care. Indeed one of the issues that hit home to me in my meeting in London is the inequality of the two (however linked) systems we currently have. Because as much as we would never conceive paying for an NHS provision if we are living with cancer – why should we as an individual supported in the community be means-tested for our care and support if we live with dementia? Why is there an inequality in the way in which we expect people to pay for their social care be it in a care home or their own home, but do not expect the same if a person was in an NHS long-stay ward? Is the care we get from the NHS better or more important than the care we receive from social care staff? Does the presence of a stethoscope or uniform enhance the professionalism on offer? Are we emphasising clinical care as more fundamental to well-being than other attributes such as connection, relatedness, belonging etc?

If we are creating a joined up and integrated system we are going to have to start asking about the equality of access, affordability, contribution and capacity.

If we are to have a right to health, free at the point of access, then we are going to have to start asking not just how we finance social care but whether in a w(holistic) system which is truly integrated why should one part be free for some treatments and some conditions, and another part of the system be chargeable?

In essence if we are to have a right to health I believe that also means we need to have to develop a ‘right to health and (social) care’. In some sense in her speech which highlights the human rights bestowed by self-directed support legislation, the First Minister is making that same assumption. So what does a right to health and social care mean for the way we finance our joint system? What does it mean for the way we reward and recognise the value of the workforce in that integrated system? What does it mean for the contribution of the third and independent sector not just in social care but also in health?

So, all in all, an interesting trip south.

Donald Macaskill

@DrDMacaskill

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