In a frank conversation with Reform Scotland thinktank, Kate Forbes said she would look again at her government’s flagship policy.
The legislation – introduced by leadership rival Humza Yousaf in Holyrood last June – will see the government set up ‘care boards’ directly accountable to the Scottish Ministers who will take on functions and staff that are currently managed and run by local authorities and health boards.
Criticism of the Bill has been mounting in recent months, with MSPs, councils, unions and organisations and carer’s charities all calling for a pause.
Earlier this month, groups representing staff and users of the new service said the legislation needed “significantly more time.”
READ MORE: Labour welcomes Yousaf’s National Care Service ‘u-turn’
Ms Forbes said that for the NCS ro work it needed to “have the confidence of workers and the trade unions, local government who will be implementing much of it and the Scottish Parliament.”
“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 informing how it’s run,” she added.
Ms Forbes said the original intention of the service was to simply fix the postcode lottery for patients care and the lack of a universal standard level of care.
“These are the problems that we’re trying to fix. So rather than creating something that’s massive, and doesn’t necessarily solve the core problems, I think it’s almost simpler than that, which is how do we ensure that there is that universal standard of care across Scotland? And how do we ensure that it’s not a postcode lottery?
“That may not require a National Care Service. It may require us to be a little bit more nimble and able to plug the gaps in care and I think anything that disempowers and centralises power is not going to fix the problem.”
“Call it a National care service, call it whatever you want, but it really needs to fix the problems and the problems are probably a little bit more simple than maybe we are giving credit for.”
READ MORE: Ash Regan will ‘immediately pause’ national care service plans
During the interview, Ms Forbes also backed the idea of an independent inquiry into the short, medium and long-term future of the NHS.
The minister said the review should be led by “senior thought leaders from within the health service, ideally, people that are on the front line” and would “need to have as an absolute foundation stone, that it continues to be free at the point of need.”
“I could sit here and diagnose what I think are some of the challenges and you know, dedicate an entire hour. The obvious one being delayed discharge and the interaction with the care service.
“That the fact secondly, that frontline workers are exhausted, and many of them would rather right now work for minimum wage in Tesco than continue doing the work that they are doing.
“And then lastly, where’s the money going? So the money needs to get to the frontline. It’s the frontline that will be ultimately that interaction with the public. But is the money getting caught up in bureaucratic managerial levels and layers.”
She said the government was able to transform elements of the health service during Covid “because we were creative, and we were urgent.”
“We did manage to reduce delay discharge almost overnight. Now that brought with it other issues which we don’t need to go into, but we were able to do it. And I think we could we could do something again.”
Responding to the comments, Scottish Lib Dem leader said tinkering around the edges of the NCS would not be enough.
He said: “Given the volume of organisations, experts and even Parliamentary committees lining up to criticise the National Care Service, it is little wonder that Kate Forbes is speaking out against this doomed project.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats have repeatedly called for this ministerial takeover to be ditched.
“It would do nothing except create a billion-pound bureaucracy and starve local communities of control. The legislation needs to be scrapped, not salvaged.
“The money being devoted to this centralisation of social care would be far better spent on frontline services and staff who are firefighting on every shift.”
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