No minister has been appointed for adult social care during the course of the Liz Truss premiership.
Despite a full ministerial team being appointed to the Department of Health and Social Care on 7 September, the DHSC said their responsibilities had not yet been decided upon.
Junior minister Neil O’Brien was understood to be covering the adult social care brief and has carried out visits to social care services, according to sector sources, but has made no public statements specifically in this capacity of which Community Care is aware.
Following Liz Truss’s resignation as Conservative leader today, no formal appointment will likely be made until the new prime minister is in place.
In an interview published this week with his constituency’s local paper, the Harborough Mail, O’Brien said he was honoured to have been appointed to the DHSC and commented on its priorities across health and social care.
The lack of an appointed care minister came with significant decisions needing to be made about the sector including:
- Whether there will be a delay to the government’s adult social care charging reforms, in the light of the economic situation.
- The implementation of the Care Quality Commission’s new performance assessment scheme for local authority adult social services next April, which council leaders want to see delayed.
- The government’s response to the consultation on the draft revised Mental Capacity Act code of practice, including provisions for implementing the Liberty Protection Safeguards, the successor to the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.
- Ongoing workforce pressures that have seen the number of vacancies rise by 52% from 2020-21 to 2021-22, and service pressures that have seen waiting lists for assessments, care and reviews top 540,000 as of April this year.
- How the sector will manage the coming winter, including how £500m allocated to bolster the workforce and help clear hospital beds should be used.
Lack of appointment ‘extremely concerning’
The apparent vacuum drew a concerned response from the British Association of Social Workers England, in a statement issued before Liz Truss’s resignation today.
Its professional officer and co-lead of its adults’ group, Denise Monks, said: “At a time when the social care ship is navigating very turbulent waters, it is extremely concerning that the current government has not appointed a captain as the role of care minister remains vacant.
“Longstanding and rapidly increasing challenges of poverty in social work is clear, added to this are increased caseloads bringing more workforce pressures. In the near future there will new legislative challenges such as the expected implementation of Liberty Protection Safeguards, introduction of the social care cap, the potential implementation of the Draft Mental Health Bill and changes to CQC local authority inspections.
“To my memory there has never been a more challenging time for the profession, therefore is essential that this government appoints a care minister urgently to ensure these challenges are immediately addressed.”
Sixth children’s minister in four years
At the Department for Education, Kelly Tolhurst was confirmed as minister for schools and childhood last month, in which capacity she has responsibility for children’s social care, as well as schools, special educational needs and disability and early years.
This made Tolhurst the sixth minister with responsibility for children’s social care in four years. However, the imminent change of prime minister makes it likely there will be a further change.