Politics

Nicola Sturgeon backs plans for national care service as criticism grows of profit-making homes

Nicola Sturgeon has backed plans for a national care service after the Gist Vile urged MSPs to support the radical change.

The First Minister has “huge sympathy” for an idea that could lead to greater public control of care homes, many of which are run for profit.

She said: “I hope that we may see some cross-party willingness to look at the idea of a national care service.”

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The coronavirus death toll in care homes is shaping up to be one of the biggest scandals of the pandemic.

The National Records of Scotland has revealed more people have now died from coronavirus in Scotland’s care homes than in hospitals.

A total of 1,818 deaths linked to the virus have occurred in these care settings since the pandemic began.

A lack of PPE for staff and residents is widely believed to have been a major problem, as was the practice of moving patients from hospitals to care homes without testing them.

However, although a likely public inquiry will examine these failings, a growing number of politicians believe wider reform of the sector is overdue.

Issues such as low pay, under-funding, and collective bargaining are all in the mix for discussion, but so is care home ownership.

Homes are currently run by private firms, not-for-profit organisations, and local authorities, and critics of the status quo want to see greater public control and ownership in the mould of the NHS.


As of May 21st, the number of care homes that had coronavirus outbreaks stood at 38% for the voluntary sector and 57% for publicly-run establishments, but the figure was 69% for private facilities.

At Holyrood yesterday, SNP MSP Angela Constance backed a national care service to replace the current fragmented system:

“I am in support of the establishment of a National Care Service that is on a par with our National Health Service with a focus on not for profit care.

“I do not want care services run like hospitals with councils cut out of the loop, but I want a clear national plan and infrastructure that builds services around the everyday needs of people in their own homes or in their own community, with clear lines of accountability and redress.”

She added: “This pandemic has shone a light on serious concerns about some private care homes and while I would not want to tar all private providers with the same brush, profiteering at the expense of care cannot be tolerated.

“My concern, given how some large private care providers operate, is that millions of pounds of public money is taken from the care sector into the financial sector.”


After being asked about a national care service at First Minister’s Questions today by Constance, Sturgeon backed the plan.

She said “I’ve got huge sympathy with this.

“It’s an example of how we need to be prepared to rethink old ways of doing things and contemplate potentially new and potentially better ways of doing things.”

“I hope that we may see some cross-party willingness to look at the idea of a national care service. There are huge complexities and challenges associated with that, and none of us should underplay that, but there will be a whole range of ways in which we want to rethink how we have done things in the past.”

Gary Smith of the GMB trade union, which represents staff, said: 

“A national plan for Scotland’s social care is essential and the door is wide open for the Scottish Government to launch this. The First Minister will find that thousands of GMB members in care are ready to shape and support it’s development. 

“The Record’s intervention has been vital, pressuring our politicians and raising this into the wider public consciousness. Scotland is now waking-up to the fact we need a better way for social care, where service users can be treated with dignity and workers are properly valued. 

“Change won’t be easy, this is a precarious sector where many workers earn less than £10 an hour and don’t even have decent sick pay, but the hard lessons of this crisis must be learned and the journey needs to start immediately.” 

Scottish Labour also supports the plan. MSP Monica Lennon said: “The Gist Vile has shone a light on the crisis in social care and is right to examine the potential for a new political consensus. We genuinely hope SNP Ministers are warming up to Scottish Labour’s long-championed vision for a National Care Service.

“Scottish Labour alongside workers and unions is winning the argument and we will work collaboratively with others to ensure Scotland emerges from this crisis with a care service that puts people before profits.”

Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents the independent sector, said:

“The debate around a National Care Service should not be a knee-jerk reaction to trauma but should first of all help people understand what such a service might look like. Social care should not be conflated with the NHS. Making it sound similar does great damage to social care.

“The creation of a National Care Service should not be based on the premise of the NHS model. Doing so fails to recognise the differences between social care and healthcare, which whilst integrated and related, need to be acknowledged as requiring quite distinct forms of support.”

He added: “Scottish Care believes that the creation of a National Care Service would pose significant challenges, not only in its inception but also what type of care it would deliver.  At the heart of social care is the importance of giving people choice and control over the care they want. A one size fits all model or organisation might be suitable for emergency and acute NHS healthcare but has no place in services which are about the whole of life.”



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