Concern over 'DIY' care packages

SOCIAL services chiefs in Essex plan to save social worker time and cut bureaucracy by asking pensioners to fill out DIY care assessment forms themselves, it has emerged.

SOCIAL services chiefs in Essex plan to save social worker time and cut bureaucracy by asking pensioners to fill out DIY care assessment forms themselves, it has emerged.

Unison, which represents social workers, yesterday voiced its concerns about the impact of Essex County Council's new “self-assessment” approach on some of the “most vulnerable people in society” -pledging to watch the situation “very closely”.

Their concerns were echoed by some members of the county council who feared some vulnerable people might be either put off seeking the care they are entitled to, or simply slip through the net.

However, Sarah Candy, the council's cabinet member for adult social care, yesterday defended the new self-assessment project stating professional help was always at hand and that it was simply another way of getting people the help they need as quickly as possible.

She added all self-assessments would be reviewed by professional social workers in order to prevent people with complex needs slipping through the net.

The first self-assessment tools will be ready by the end of 2006.

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Once carried out by dedicated social workers, these assessments will increasingly be carried out by those in need of social care, including the elderly and those with physical or learning difficulties.

By 2007 1,790 people will be self-assessing, rising to 3,997 by 2008/09, according to council figures.

In her report on the project, Jenny Owen, head of adult social care, said the county council would also benefit from less data inputting burdens for its staff, more time for its social workers to look at more complex cases and a cut in the amount of office space needed by social services staff.

Inspected by the Commission for Social Care Inspection in 2004, Essex County Council was shown to achieve a four-week assessment completion time in just 33% of cases (compared with a national average of 5%). The inspection also found that 23% of assessments were not started within the first 48 hours.

Greg Grant, regional secretary for Unison, said: “This will mean major changes to the way social care is delivered. We will be watching this project with concern. We are talking here about some of the most vulnerable people in society and we don't want any practices adopted that would not help them.

“The council will also need to keep our social workers fully informed throughout this project.”

Julie Young, Labour spokesman for adult social care at the county council, said: “It is unacceptable to have vulnerable clients filling in their own forms.

“Form filling is never easy and I would be extremely worried about some of these clients completing their own assessments without the knowledge of what they might need or, indeed, the knowledge of what they might be entitled to. It might even act as a disincentive to people coming forward with their care needs meaning some people would be at risk of missing out.”

Margaret Fisher, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for adult social care at the county council, said the idea had “logic” but added: “It probably was budget driven as much as anything. Social workers are very difficult to recruit and this would mean trying to make best use of them so they are not sitting there filling in forms.”

She said she had concerns about how easy the forms would be for people to use.

Mrs Candy, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “People want help and support as soon as possible and not have to wait for an appointment the following week. This is just another tool to get people assessed as quickly as possible.

“It is about making life easier for people, not more difficult. We are only really worried about getting the care package and support in for the people of Essex as quickly as possible. For those who don't want to fill in a form, there is the telephone or face-to-face option. Nobody will be forced to self-assess.”

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