New tax needed to fund NHS and care, says ex-minister

Hospital ward Image copyright PA

A new tax is needed to ensure the UK has a properly funded health and social care system, doctor and ex-Conservative health minister Dan Poulter has said.

The Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP told the Observer that difficulties in arranging social care for patients was having a major impact on hospitals.

Raising National Insurance "offers one of the simplest ways forward", he said.

The Department of Health said its plan to introduce a cap on care costs in England in 2020 had not changed.

Mr Poulter stepped down from his Department of Health post last year and now works as an MP and a part-time doctor in the NHS.

He told the Observer: "On the hospital wards I often see people who are medically fit to go home, but who are forced to stay in hospital because of difficulties arranging their social care package, or because of a lack of appropriate housing...

"A long-term plan to ensure a properly funded and sustainable health and social care system is urgently required."

'Legitimate debate'

The government's policy to limit care costs to £72,000 for the over-65s and younger adults with disabilities were delayed from last April after councils, which provide the facilities, wrote to ministers citing "enormous pressures".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dr Poulter stood down as a health minister in 2015

But Dr Poulter, who had been charged with steering the plan through Parliament, suggested the flagship policy now has little chance of being implemented because of increasing costs.

He said a "health and care tax - perhaps introduced through raising national insurance" would provide a guaranteed income stream and "allow a legitimate debate about what is an appropriate level of taxation required to ensure a sustainable funding settlement".

A 1p in the pound hike in both employee and employer National Insurance contributions was used by Labour in its 2002 budget to pay for a £40bn rise in NHS spending over five years.

Dr Poulter's comments come after it was revealed plans are being drawn up that could see cuts to NHS services across England to meet £22bn in efficiency savings by 2020-21.

The Department of Health said it had protected the NHS in England by giving it an extra £10bn and any changes would involve reorganising local services to improve patient care.

Addressing Mr Poulter's comments, a DoH spokeswoman said: "This government is committed to ensuring that those in old age can access care that is both affordable and dignified.

"The position on the care cost cap hasn't changed. Last year, a new timetable was set out with the introduction of the cap in 2020 and we are now working with the insurance industry and others to make sure we can introduce these reforms."

But Richard Murray, of the King's Fund think tank, said tackling the "growing crisis" in social care would be a key test of Prime Minister Theresa May's vow to lead a nation that works for everyone, not just the privileged.

He said: "England remains one of the few major advanced countries that has not reformed the way it funds long-term care in response to the needs of an ageing population.

"A frank and open debate is needed on how to fund health and social care on a sustainable basis into the future, recognising that a long-term strategy will exceed the lifetime of a single Parliament."

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