More power for Scotland, more power for UK regions

There’s an old saying; ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’. Will devolution affect health and social care in Scotland?

Scotland has voted to stay part of the United Kingdom, yet the devolution genie is truly out of the bottle, north and south of the border. The Prime Minister has promised that before next year’s general election, there’ll be a draft of the devolved powers Scotland can expect. He went on to hint at more devolved powers for the biggest cities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland too, with details to be released on the same timeline as Scottish change.

That means we can expect a lot of proposals, debate and potential impact, in just a few short months. It’s going to be a busy time for politicians and policy-makers. How will all this change affect health and social care leaders?

With ‘No’ supporters winning through in Scotland, all eyes have now turned to the package of further devolution and finance that the Westminster leaders were promising over the closing weeks of the campaign. The focus in the coming weeks and months will be on what’s new, rather than what is already devolved. Health and social care has long been a devolved policy area in Scotland.

With all the new policy emerging, there’s a chance there’ll be less focus and less time to discuss health and social care. It risks being squeezed off the agenda.

And yet there is real change underway in health and social care in Scotland. The new Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill will start being implemented in the coming months. Its aim is greater integration of health and social care budgets. Health boards and local authorities will be jointly responsible for planning the care they deliver. Together, they’ll be responsible for putting the new local arrangements in place by April next year, with full integration expected by April 2016. These are big changes.

More devolved powers have the power to make even greater impact. The ‘Scotland Act’, likely to be passed next year, is anticipated to devolve income tax-raising powers to Holyrood along with greater control over corporation tax and the welfare budget as a whole. With greater budgetary freedoms, the Scottish Government would have the ability to address existing social care funding issues. By adjusting budgets across departments, or by raising additional money, Holyrood will now have the opportunity to shape and fund an integrated social care system that is the envy of those in England and Wales.

Scotland’s care sector needs to make itself heard in government, over the coming years. The same goes for the rest of the UK’s health and care sector, as powers are devolved from Westminster to greater regional control. The health and social care sector needs to be part of that devolution debate, because the changes that are coming are only likely to happen once. Now is the time to make the sector’s voice heard.

This article was first featured in the October print edition of Healthcare Business News.

Lynn McMath heads the new PLMR Scotland office in Edinburgh. She was a former press advisor to the Scottish Shadow Cabinet, working closely with them on the Better Together campaign.

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