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SNP group joins calls for National Care Service plans to be paused

The National Care Service Bill is due to go to a first vote in Holyrood next month (Joe Giddens/PA)
The National Care Service Bill is due to go to a first vote in Holyrood next month (Joe Giddens/PA)

Unions, think tanks and charities – along with an SNP-affiliated organisation – have written to the First Minister to ask for the National Care Service Bill to be paused.

The SNP’s trade union group executive is among the signatories to the letter – along with the STUC, Unite, GMB Scotland, Who Cares? Scotland and the Scottish Pensioners’ Forum – which is the latest in a long line of requests for a re-think on the Bill.

The legislation would bring adult social care, and potentially other areas including drug and alcohol and children’s services, under central control in a similar way to the NHS, with day-to-day management handled by localised care boards.

But repeated concern has been raised about the process of creating the National Care Service (NCS), with the Government opting to pass a framework Bill and design the service after the fact in partnership with interest parties.

Most recently, Holyrood’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee said the Bill does not have enough detail for it to be adequately scrutinised by MSPs.

In their letter sent on Thursday, the groups called for “significantly more time” to be devoted to the Bill, warning that a failure to do so could create a “schism” with wider civic society in Scotland.

“While as organisations and as individuals we have engaged with the consultation processes provided by your Government, we believe this is such an important and complex matter that significantly more time is required to adequately co-design the foundations and architecture of an NCS we can all feel proud of, one that will provide workable solutions to current problems and issues,” the letter said.

“We are therefore very concerned that despite an absence of support for the content of the NCS Bill outside Scottish Government circles, plans are proceeding apace.

“These risk creating a schism between the Scottish Government and civic society.

“Hence our request that the current parliamentary timetable, including the first reading of the NCS Bill which is due in March, is set aside for further consultation, consideration and resolution of our major concerns.”

The signatories also voiced their support for the principle of an NCS, writing: “This should be an exciting and visionary project of huge importance, not least because of the strain that the National Health Service is under just now, and we believe that a better considered plan and eventual legislation could create a system that would sit as a worthy partner to an effective NHS.”

They added that while they are calling for a pause to the Bill, any delay should not mean the Scottish Government cannot move to improve the care sector in other areas.

Minister for Social Care Kevin Stewart said: “People with direct experience of social care and community healthcare have repeatedly told us that the system needs to change to address standards and consistency across Scotland and we are including them, councils, the social care workforce and unions in co-designing how the National Care Service will work.

“I welcome that the letter signatories agree that a National Care Service will be an important and invaluable part of our health and care services, and I hope to continue to work with them through the co-design process to ensure the best care possible.

“The National Care Service will ensure our workforce is supported and rewarded, but we’re not waiting for the introduction of the National Care Service to bring in better conditions for the workforce.

“We are already increasing pay, improving terms and conditions in the sector, and developing clear career pathways, all backed by Fair Work principles.”