Friday, 14 December 2012

Social Care: A Culture of Unimportance

The Government’s Winterbourne View final report talks of a ‘culture of abuse’ being allowed to flourish within the establishment. This is nothing new there have been plenty of cases where this has happened and many commentators have mentioned this, we have periodic exposes of abusive culture within social care settings followed by a brief blustering of politicians yet these things keep happening.

The real issue that needs to be addressed in adult social care is the culture of unimportance that pervades society when it comes to the needs of the elderly and disabled in the country.
The Winterbourne report highlights this culture of unimportance. There is no Prime Ministerial forward promising whole Government action, there is not even a signature from the Cabinet Minister for Health. This should not distract from many of the good proposals in the report yet it, in terms of promoting social care as a national important area of policy it fails.

This is, obviously, only the latest in the line of things were the Government continues to cultivate the culture of unimportance around adult social care. The Dilnot Commission , set up as part of the coalition agreement,  submitted its final report in July 2011 and, since then, has largely been scrupulously avoided aside from the odd burst of political gusto when it seemed convenient. In the meantime the reality for many older people remains the same, sell your house to pay for your care.

Naturally Dilnot is itself a product of the culture of unimportance. The Commission was set up to tackle only how care is paid for, what has not been tackled is the ever tightening eligibility criteria for state support with care nor has the needs of other vulnerable adults, such as those with learning disabilities, had any consideration.

The social care culture of unimportance cannot just be ascribed to this Government, the previous Labour Government prevaricated and delayed taking action on social care producing a White Paper on 30 March 2010 just weeks before an inevitable General Election, and even then their ideas where merely a tinkering of what already existed rather than wholesale reform.  

The culture of unimportance that is allowed to flourish at Westminster inevitably and naturally trickles down to the rest of society. Undoubtedly if many average people in the street were to be asked what has been the most important issue discussed at Westminster this week the answer, inevitably, will be that of same sex marriage. While that is important in its own right surely the needs of the most vulnerable in society should take precedence and, although I don’t know the exact numbers, I suspect that the issue of same sex marriage will have a direct impact on far fewer members of the population than social care reform would.

The culture of unimportance MUST end and social care must take its rightful place alongside the other major areas of social policy. As society continues to age the implications for social care are significant, more and more people will need social care services and it is societies duty to ensure those needs are met.

Personally I feel it is obviously right that social care should have its own Cabinet Minister and Department for Social Care and have started a e-petition to this effect (click here to sign) as I believe that this will be a start to raising the importance of social care nationally. Yet beyond this we do need those in charge now to stop treating social care as a side issue to other areas of social policy and start treating social care with the importance it needs in order to ensure the well-being of the millions who need social care services.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Back to Basics after Winterbourne View: Social Care Training

The Governments final report on Winterbourne View says a lot about the need for staff training but within all of that there is an important phrase that applies right across the social care spectrum and that phrase is “properly trained”.

While there could be some debate about what ‘properly trained’ means it is essential that all care providers reflect on the standard of training that they are providing for their staff. Under the current economic climate it is quite possible that providers are focusing on the cost rather than the quality of training.

Skills for Care and Skills for Health are charged with producing minimum training standards by January but it is unclear as yet whether these will be tick boxes for providers or fundamental changes in the way training must be monitored or delivered yet in either instance care providers should take responsibility for the quality of the training they provide for their staff and this can be done in a number of ways.

Firstly talk to staff. How did they feel about the training, were they engaged with the training or was it just a chore that just had to be done? I know, from personal experience, have conversations like that are useful, once I was informed that a training session was pointless because the trainer just read everything from a book and obviously did not know much about the actual subject. Needless to say that training provider was not used again but without seeking that feedback in the first place the company would probably have continued using the same trainer.

Naturally it would be obviously more useful if care providers could have some assurance about the quality of training providers before they booked them. This is easy for certain courses such as First Aid and Food Hygiene where trainers are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health but for other training the route to quality is much less clear.

Yet there is some help, the National Skills Academy for Social Care has started a list of endorsed trainers (available here) and of course word of mouth through local trade associations is a good way to identify recommended trainers. Hopefully the endorsement/registration of trainers in social care will expand to help providers in identifying trainers who can provide appropriately qualified trainers to meet the needs of their particular service.

It is also, perhaps, important that care training providers look at how they can improve their own service by , perhaps, ensuring that the model of care set out in the Winterbourne View report is embedded in any training they deliver and by seeking recognition from the National Skills Academy for Social Care so that providers can trust that they will receive quality training.

Care providers have further responsibility though. Ensuring staff are ‘properly trained’ is not just about what happens in the classroom setting, that training has to be turned into practice and that aspect is the responsibility of the management of the care provider. How aspects such as infection control, medication, mental capacity, adult protection etc. are applied to those the provider cares for can only be done at the point of care delivery and it is essentially vital the staff development activities work hand in hand with formal training.

Unfortunately, when the sector changed from the National Minimum Standards to the Essential Standards of Quality and Safety many of the training standards were lost as the new standards were required to cover hospitals, dentists, ambulance services etc. as well as social care but hopefully the new standards being worked will fill some of this gap.

There can be little doubt that training and the quality of training will be high in the Care Quality Commission inspection agenda and ultimately training provision is the responsibility of the care provider and it is essential that training provided for staff is high quality training that engages and leads to better outcomes for those they provide services for.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Winterbourne View Report: Smoke & Mirrors?

Any action to improve the lives of those with learning disabilities has to be welcome and many of the proposals in the Governments Winterbourne View Final Report are good yet that does not mean the report should go unchallenged especially as there are some inconsistencies where it appears the Government may be trying to deflect responsibility introducing ideas that, actually, really already exist.

Norman Lamb and others have focused a lot on corporate responsibility. Norman Lamb said “This case has revealed weaknesses in the system’s ability to hold the leaders of care organisations to account. This is a gap in the care regulatory framework, and we intend to close it”.

In fact the Health and Social Act 2008 made care organisations accountable and open to prosecution if they fail to meet the regulations, and Castlebeck certainly failed on a number of them. The Care Quality Commission also has the power to cancel a providers registration. In addition there are also the legal requirements under the Health & Safety Act 1974, the HSE’s guidance states:

“Recent case law has confirmed that directors cannot avoid a charge of neglect under section 37 by arranging their organisation’s business so as to leave them ignorant of circumstances which would trigger their obligation to address health and safety breaches.
Those found guilty are liable for fines and, in some cases, imprisonment.”

As the abuse at Winterbourne View clearly breaches the Health & Safety requirement to keep everyone in the place of business safe, surely Castlebeck should have been prosecuted.
Rather than taking time to draft new legislation surely it would make more sense to ensure existing legislation is being used effectively.

We also need to take care over how the Government frames the action which it proposes to take, for example in its timetable for action we have:
From June 2012 – CQC will take enforcement action against providers who do not operate effective processes to ensure they have sufficient numbers of properly trained staff, &;

From April 2013 – CQC will assess whether providers are delivering care consistent with the statement of purpose made at the time of registration

Although welcome moves the real question, unanswered by the report, is why were these not already happening? Both are required by the Health & Social Care Act regulations and, as such, form part of the requirements of registration. Yes there has been a change of leadership at the CQC and things have improved but it does not mean that such things should be omitted from the report nor does it excuse the absence of any action to ensure such things do not happen again.

The report also fails to answer the question of Government inaction on social care, particularly in terms of those with Learning Disabilities where the principles of Valuing People seemed to have faded in to dim memory. Much of what is being proposed should already have been in place and it is the Governments neglect of social care that means they are now only acting because they are forced to.

There is also a serious omission from the report that is equally important to the Winterbourne View case and that is Whistleblowing. Action could have been taken much sooner if the reports to Castlebeck and CQC were acted upon and some of the abuse witnessed in the Panorama film would not have happened. Yet nowhere in the list of action to be taken is a review of existing Public Interest Disclosure law, the responsibilities of statutory bodies to act or even report when abuse is alleged.

For all the effort to prevent abuse it is still down to people reporting it before it can be truly uncovered, I doubt very much if regulatory bodies have uncovered abuse through annual inspections, and therefore there has to be much more done in the way of encouraging people to disclose abuse along with a much more robust response when such reports are made that reports all allegations not just those that make it to safeguarding referral stage.

It would be wrong throw out the baby with the bath water and there are some very positive proposals in the report. It is right to end the existence of these pseudo-hospitals and it is right to move all people with learning disabilities toward person centred support.

We need more action on learning disability services and not just for those who find themselves confined in so called hospitals. Abuse happens in other places to and we need equal action to eradicate hate crime in the community where life is not regulated by the CQC.

This report should just be a start, let's have a new white paper on how the Government and society will support those with Learning Disabilities to lead fuller and safer lives.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Compassionate Government - Bah Humbug

This week’s Autumn Statement from the Chancellor seems to finally put paid to any pretence of ‘compassionate conservatism’ as, subtly he put social care under increasing economic pressure and impacted on the lives of the millions who need social care services to help them in their everyday lives.

There were multiple blows to social care, none of which actually identified it but the implications are there and the vulnerable in society will suffer from the impact.

Firstly there was central Government spending. George Osborne announced that all Westminster departments will need to cut spending further. There were only a few exceptions, his own department HMRC, education and the NHS. There is an important distinction here, as the NHS is not the whole of the Department of Health and the social care side of the DH looks like it will have to reduce spending in line with the cuts made across other departments meaning less money to essential front line services.

On top of this local authority spending will have to be cut further. Back in October the President of the Association of Directors of Adult Services warned the care services were on the edge (see here) and the prospect of extra cuts can only mean those vital services may tip over the edge as less and less people either fall out of eligibility criteria or services become so time orientated that any form of personalised care goes out the window.

Yet the cuts to local authority spending will have a secondary impact. Under the health reforms the responsibility for public health functions was transferred to local authorities including things such as health protection, public health initiatives to tackle social inclusion, initiatives to reduce seasonal mortality rates, public mental health services and many more which have a direct impact on the lives of those who need social care services.

The real irony is that investment in social care and public health could actually be more beneficial to the NHS budget than simply ring-fencing that alone. It is well documented that prevention services mean less need for hospital admissions etc, people prefer to remain at home during illness and home care with preventative public health services can increase the likelihood of that.

So the Autumn Statement proposals are not just punitive punishment on those who need social care services but they are also false economics.

The other aspect of social care overlooked by the Government is the fact that not all people who need social care services are over the age of 65. Many people with learning disabilities receive ordinary benefits which have now been capped meaning an increasing number will fall further into poverty. The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities stated that only 7% of people with learning disabilities are in employment yet 65% want a job. It is unfair to label these people as shirkers when it is the Government’s failure to create an economic climate that creates full-time jobs.

In addition to all of this we have the lack of action on social care funding in general, it has been nearly 18 months since the Dilnot Commission submitted its final report yet still nothing has happened, the urgency with which the Government launched the commission has totally and utterly turned into a lethargy of inaction.

There are millions of people with social care striving to make life as bearable as possible yet the shirkers in Westminster seem to determined to make that as hard as possible.