THE National Care Service (NCS) should be decentralised and pay for carers raised to £15 an hour, SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes has said. 

The Finance Secretary, currently on maternity leave from her government role, said she hopes to make social care a more rewarding career by boosting the pay level for the industry.

Speaking at a campaign event at Highland Home Carers in Inverness, which includes a national care training academy, Forbes said that while she is "hugely" supportive of the NCS proposals, she would decentralise the approach to support local services if she became first minister. 

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The 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.

This has received significant criticism from trade unions and local councils over a lack of clarity and fears of job losses, and some SNP MSPs have also previously raised "significant concerns" over the costs associated with the policy bid. 

Forbes's pay boost plan for carers would also include training pathways to allow them to expand their careers. 

However, fellow leadership contender and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf previously told a Holyrood committee in January that a rise to £15 per hour for care staff would cost “well over £1 billion”.

The National: Forbes said she would 'decentralise' the National Care Service plansForbes said she would 'decentralise' the National Care Service plans (Image: PA)

Forbes 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.”

The leadership candidate, who will take part in the party’s first hustings on Wednesday evening in Cumbernauld alongside Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan, said it is crucial to ensure the service works for all areas.

She said: “We need to have a decentralised approach. A model that works, for example, in Stornoway probably won't work in the middle of Glasgow.

“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.”

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Improving the care sector will also help speed up the NHS recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, she said. 

The NHS has been under significant pressure in the last year, with soaring A&E waiting times and rising delayed discharges.

Forbes added: "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.

“That’s why when it comes to the finances, if we can save on the delayed discharge which is costing the NHS millions of pounds, unnecessarily, we can reinvest that into caring.”

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.”