A simple step: a huge difference

A month since the Association’s Yarnfield spring seminar, and the pace of change and the high profile of care both nationally and locally continues.

Many partners and external speakers have told me what an excellent event this was - made doubly so by the quality of the contributions made by all who attended. We were able to be honest about the scale of the challenges (particularly the financial ones) facing social care. But the commitment in ADASS - and directors’ determination to grasp all the opportunities – was heartening: a culture, approach and atmosphere that was positively tangible.

In the Panorama programme Behind Closed Doors: Elderly care Exposed ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042rcjp) Alison Holt deftly exposed poor care and mistreatment. And in my contribution in the media I emphasised the need to invest in care services and, in particular, in the  training and development of care staff. The new national care certificate sets certain standards. But we do need to make sure there is sufficient funding in the training system qualification awards wherever we can.

More importantly the users and carers in touch with services must be able to have confidence in the skills, commitment and compassion of those delivering care. Andrea Sutcliffe, the CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, rightly emphasises how driving up the quality and reducing the risk of such events in the future requires a collective effort by all those who have responsibility for both care services as well as the communities that we serve. Judy Downey, chair of the Relatives and Residents Association with whom I discussed this issue following our appearance together on the BBC News Channel was equally concerned to emphasise the importance of standards.

Our contributions as commissioners must be to be clear that we are ensuring that a high quality and sustainable care market can exist in our council areas, a responsibility we share with our colleagues in the health service. I have spoken at the Laing-Buisson conference during the last month and other forums with care providers and was impressed by the recognition that to make progress in an age of austerity we have to work together to understand the ways in which we drive up quality in the context of constrained resources.

This month I have also focused on the contribution of carers with a blog on the DH website ( http://bit.ly/1hufwhm) and a presentation to the carers conference in my own authority in Nottinghamshire as well as the carers UK conference State of Caring. The context for all these discussions was the Care Act and how this might improve recognition and support for carers.

I have yet to find anyone who does not support the principles and contents of the Act and the carers’ provisions are a fine example. The question I was asked was, “but how does this work as local authority budgets are reducing?”. My response? We are working as part of the national programme to make sure the extra responsibilities of the Act are met by government. And beyond this, we need to understand the impact of reducing funding and making sure that this is understood nationally as well as at a local level.

The Act is an opportunity to build the right platform for the future. In terms of carers I have been struck by how the needs of carers are increasingly becoming the focus of both social care and health. Ensuring carers’ needs are addressed in all health, social care and wider public service strategies would be a simple step that could make such a huge difference.

The work to integrate health and social care continues as the Better Care Fund hits the press. All the plans have been reviewed locally and nationally and the last few weeks have been used to seek clarification. No one appears to doubt that joining up person-centred care is the right thing to do. Of course this is difficult - particularly when organisations are concerned about financial viability or meeting demand that they can't cope with.

The Better Care Fund is one mechanism for achieving this, and local communities have worked very hard to develop viable plans in a very short space of time. The Fund is a catalyst for change, a way of ensuring planning that ideally goes beyond the scope of three per cent of the health and social care budget, and is used to best effect at a local level with the benefit of democratic oversight.

So, back to Yarnfield. Back to the seminar where the work on our 2014/15 priorities was started off, and which have now been confirmed*. They are priorities which will need leadership and implementation through our regional networks, and we have identified links within the Presidents team to help lead this work. Most importantly, these links and priorities have been established alongside our partners; our stakeholders and, most importantly, through the lens of people who use adult social care services.

David Pearson

* ADASS 2014/15 priorities are:

Care Act
Integration of health, care and wider public services
Financial sustainability
Commissioning for better outcomes
Quality and safeguarding
Sector-led improvement
ADASS review