The Scottish Government’s flagship shake-up of the country’s care services has been delayed by three years as the potential costs have doubled to more than £2billion.

The changes to the National Care Service (NCS) were revealed by SNP social care minister Maree Todd in a letter to Holyrood’s finance committee.

However, in the face of intense criticism, Scottish ministers are proposing to backtrack on so many key parts of the plan, the cost could be cut to below £1bn over the first decade.

The first vote on the National Care Service Bill at Holyrood has been repeatedly delayed because of money and design issues. 

When Nicola Sturgeon launched the NCS plan in 2021, she said it was “arguably the most significant public service reform since the creation of the National Health Service” in 1948.

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The aim was to end the “postcode lottery” in community health and social care, by ensuring consistent and high standards and “embedding the principles of fair work for care workers”. 

The “go live” date was due to be 2025/26, within the current parliament.

However that has now been pushed back to 2028/29, well into the parliament that runs from 2026 to 2031, when the SNP might not be in power and the NCS could be abandoned.

The original NCS plan involved transferring council-run care services and assets to the NCS, with existing joint NHS and council integration authorities replaced by local care boards.

As care and social work makes up around a third of council budgets, local authorities and unions pushed back hard against the prospect of large-scale transfers.

But the Government is now proposing to let councils retain responsibility for “all their current functions and the delivery of social work and social care services”, meaning there will be no transfer of staff or assets.

In addition, the plan to create new care boards has been ditched in favour of reforming the existing integration authorities.

Instead, there will be a National Care Service Board monitoring the sector and giving advice.

The NCS was forecast to cost between £644m and £1.26bn, depending on the extent of care services ministers ultimately chose to transfer.

This is now put at £880m to £2.2bn, although the timeframe has been spread over a decade.

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If MSPs agree to amend the Bill to incorporate the proposed changes, the cost over the first 10 years is put at between £631m and £916m.

The changes follow months of engagement between Ms Todd and the care sector to “co-design” the reforms in light of growing criticism.

They also come as the Scottish Government tries to save hundreds of millions of pounds ahead of next week's budget for 2024/25.

In her letter to the finance committee, which previously criticised the vague costings for the framework Bill, Ms Todd said the “most significant change” was the ‘go live’ delay.

“Due to a clearer understanding of the requirements in the set-up of the NCS at National level, obtained through the co-design workshops and engagement with people with lived experience, the NHS and [council body] COSLA, the NCS programme has reprioritised and rephased various workstreams to reflect the new understanding,” her letter said.

She said that “while the delivery mechanisms for the NCS may now be different” the vision behind it remained the same, including a consistently high level of care across Scotland.

Tory MSP Liz Smith said: “It’s time for the SNP to finally ditch their unaffordable, centralised National Care Service. The fact that the already eye-watering estimates have had to be revised so steeply upwards should signal its demise.

“The details of how the NCS would function are shockingly vague and sketchy, so even these breathtaking new costings are little more than guesswork.

“The SNP need to cut the taxpayer’s losses now and divert all available resources for councils to meet local social care needs in their area.”