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NHS chief warns the social care system must be fixed within a year amid the coronavirus crisis

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Wholesale reform of social care can be delayed no longer, the head of the NHS in England has warned.

Sir Simon Stevens said coronavirus had shone a ‘very harsh spotlight’ on the failings of the care system – and demanded politicians fix it within a year.

He said we should use the pandemic to ‘properly resource and reform the way in which social care works in this country’ and added that the country does not ‘have a fair and properly resourced adult social care system with a proper set of workforce supports’.

Nearly 30,000 people died in care homes as a result of coronavirus in the first three months of the crisis – 20,000 directly from Covid-19 and another 10,000 who are thought to have missed out on vital care because of lockdown. 

Chief Executive of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, (above) said coronavirus shone a 'very harsh spotlight' on the failings of the care system – and demanded politicians fix it within a year

Chief Executive of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, (above) said coronavirus shone a ‘very harsh spotlight’ on the failings of the care system – and demanded politicians fix it within a year

Experts last night said the ‘threadbare’ sector – neglected, underfunded and poorly staffed for decades – simply was not ready for the pandemic. Politicians have long accepted social care is broken, but for years have failed to deliver on promises to fix it.

Boris Johnson pledged on his first day in power last July to fix social care ‘once and for all’. He said his team had ‘a clear plan’ to ‘give every older person the dignity and security they deserve’. 

But nearly a year on, the Prime Minister is yet to provide any details.

He was not the first to promise reform – Tony Blair said in 1997 he would end the scandal in which ‘the only way pensioners can get long-term care is by selling their home’. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May made similar pledges – and none delivered.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said last night: ‘The lives of thousands of older people and hundreds of valiant care workers might have been saved if any recent government had taken action, but instead one by one they all walked away.’ 

Sir Simon, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, said the time for action is long overdue. 

Simon Stevens (front) said we should use the pandemic to 'properly resource and reform the way in which social care works in this country'

Simon Stevens (front) said we should use the pandemic to ‘properly resource and reform the way in which social care works in this country’

He added: ‘I would hope by the time we are sitting down this time next year… that we have actually, as a country, been able to decisively answer the question of how are we going to fund and provide high-quality social care for my parents’ generation.’

The Daily Mail has been campaigning for an urgent solution to the care scandal – particularly for those with dementia, who make up two thirds of care residents.

The crisis has built in recent months, with chaotic staffing in homes seeing agency workers spread the virus between different care institutions.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman last night said a plan is due – but did not give a timescale for its publication.

The NHS may have to deliver its biggest-ever flu immunisation this winter as a second wave of coronavirus remains ‘entirely possible’, Sir Simon said. 

People needed to get the flu vaccine to ease pressure on the health service in the colder months, he explained. 

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