SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes has said she is “hugely supportive” of her party’s National Care Service (NCS) proposals, but pledged to decentralise the approach to support local services.
The controversial plans currently would take social care out of the hands of local authorities and place responsibility with regional care boards which are accountable to ministers.
It has received significant criticism from trade unions and local councils over a lack of clarity and fears of job losses.
Her plans would see the minimum wage for carers increased to £15 per hour and includes training pathways for carers to expand their careers.
But Ms Forbes’ plans could be scuppered by the financial problems faced by the Scottish Government, with fellow leadership contender and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf telling a Holyrood committee in January that a rise to £15 per hour for care staff would cost “well over £1 billion”.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie accused the Finance Secretary of showing a “brass neck” having previously not supported her party’s calls for raising the social care pay floor to £15.
She also expressed the need to move away from “getting sucked into additional bureaucracy”.
The Finance Secretary is one of three candidates vying for the top job to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.
She told the PA news agency: “I’m hugely supportive of the National Care Service. I think it is a big opportunity, particularly after Covid, to ensure that the care sector has fair work at its heart, actually delivers the care right across Scotland, reducing the postcode lottery that’s been identified.”
She said: “We need to have a decentralised approach. A model that works, for example, in Stornoway probably wont work in the middle of Glasgow.
“But we need to empower local teams to provide that care but that can all be done under the banner of a national care service. I think that will attract the confidence of the trade unions as well as the wider care sector.”
Improving the care sector will also help speed up the NHS recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The NHS has been under significant pressure in the last year, with soaring A&E waiting times and rising delayed discharges.
Ms Forbes said: Delayed discharge is one of the costliest challenges facing the NHS right now and it boils down to whether or not there is care packages waiting for individuals who don’t need to be in hospital, which is why ensuring that the care sector offers rewarding careers, has fair work at its heart and ultimately is an attractive place for carers will do a lot to reduce that delayed discharges.
Ms Forbes first hinted at a rethink of the NCS proposals during an online event with Reform Scotland on Tuesday.
She said: “I don’t think a scheme can be effectively delivered unless it has the confidence of the people that are either going to be implementing it, managing it, or forming how it’s run.”
She added that fixing the problems “may not require a National Care Service, it may require us to be a little bit more nimble and able to plug gaps in care, and I think anything that disempowers and centralises power is not going to fix the problem.”