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By Debbie le Quesne

Archive for September 2013

Public to be consulted over major shift in care

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Proposed changes to adult social care are to be discussed at an open consultation Skipton on Thursday.

As reported in the Craven Herald and Pioneer, North Yorkshire County Council is proposing a review of its eligibility criteria for social care, “bringing it into line with the majority of other local authorities in the country.”

It is also proposing changing the amount people pay for community-based social care for adults – nothing new here.

Significantly, Councillor Clare Wood, executive member for adult social care, is reported as saying: “The changes upon which we want to consult the public are things which in an ideal world we would prefer not to have to make.

“But we are obliged to live in the real world, and very significant financial savings are required of the council as the Government tackles the economic deficit.”

The council’s proposal to raise the threshold for social care intervention from “moderate needs” to “substantial needs” would bring the county in line with 87 per cent of local authorities in England.

What I find particularly interesting is that this local authority is brave enough to hold a public meeting. No doubt it will be heated, but the stab at transparency is to be praised.

I suspect there ought to be many more of these kind of gatherings as more and more the austerity measures takes their toll.

Councillor Wood also is quoted as saying: “We should also remember that the Government is proposing a national minimum threshold similar to the current ‘substantial’ threshold within the next few years in any case.”

Has this been made public by Government? I don’t think so, do you?

All credit to the councilor for letting this out of the bag.

On a Monday morning, fresh from a break, I wish had better news. Let’s start the day with my tin hat on – it’s already shaping up nicely.

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People ‘oblivious’ to cost of care – and we’re doing nothing

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Issues of awareness beset the care sector. We need, like never before, to be aware of client need and choice, we need too to be aware of joined-up thinking in the delivery of care so that we can get the most out of our meager funding allocations . . . and we need the general public to be aware of the services we provide.

I guess it all comes to media exposure, marketing and networking.

Aware the West Midlands Care Association needs to have a high profile, I was interested to stumble on a piece in The Independent online while on holiday.

It addressed the issue of perceptions and awareness from a public perception – and the article, coined from stats from the Strategic Society Centre concluded that in Britain, people are “oblivious” to the cost of adult care and the likelihood of their own need for care in the future.

The think tank’s report is deeply worrying.

The Independent article says: “Nearly half of all respondents to a survey said they did not know the average weekly cost of a place in a residential care home. Of those that did answer, the mean figure suggested was £396.58 – around £140 below the average fee of £531.

“The survey also found that many people underestimate the probability of needing care themselves in the future. Out of 2,271 people asked more than half believed the probability was lower than 40 per cent.

“Yet research suggests that 65-year-old men have a 68 per cent chance of needing care before they die, while women have an 85 per cent chance.”

And it goes on: “Asked what price, on average, they thought their local authorities paid per week for a care-home place, 60.5 per cent said they did not know. The amount suggested by those who provided an estimate was £350.88, when the average amount was £480 per week.”

We have our annual general meeting coming up shortly and on the agenda is the issue of getting publicity about the good work we do. I’m not surprised the public thinking on our care sector is so fogged. So much media exposure is negative and these latest findings underpin the scant knowledge the public really has on issues of care.

Can we change public opinion? I think so, but it will demand some effort on our part. With more and more free social media platforms emerging, it’s incumbent upon us to learn how to use them and to get our messages out there. Have a good weekend.

It’s time to Tweet and tell the world how good we are

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Moving ahead with technology in the care sector has never been easy. Computers still send shivers down the spines of some providers and I’m convinced there’s a brand of mobile phone that’s steam driven used by the industry’s diehards.

Joking apart, just getting people to use such free publicity ‘agents’ such as Facebook is a challenge.

But there’s a new initiative that’s worth braving the technology mountain for – #SocialCareHour launched last week on Twitter

The Twitter-based initiative has been set up as a news and networking platform to get people across social care talking openly and sharing positive experiences and ideas about how to develop the sector as a whole.

Social care providers, commissioners and customers are all encouraged to join the conversation, which will take place on Twitter every Wednesday evening between 8 – 9pm.

Anybody wanting to take part can do so by including #SocialCareHour in each tweet they post.

The new initiative is the brainchild of Midlands based creative company, GD PR & Media, which specialise in the Health & Social Care sector.

Reported in Care Industry News online, Company Director David Huckerby says: “Many social care providers, commissioners and customers we have met are frustrated by the increasingly negative image being painted of a committed, compassionate and ultimately vital sector.

“As such, we were keen to provide an effective platform for people to celebrate innovation, share best practice and explore collaboration opportunities for the benefit of social care as a whole. #SocialCareHour also provides a great opportunity for customers to share good experiences and suggest ideas to those commissioning and providing services.”

Let’s see if we can add to the followers’ list and indeed, help get the message out there that our care is good and our commitment to fight for better funding for all streams of service has not been diminished.

Spicing up care with the ultimate curry club

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Interim Assistant Director at Dudley MBC Matt Bowsher has written a piece for The Guardian’s Social Care Network which is guaranteed to spice up your day.

Along with George Julian, a freelance knowledge transfer consultant, he reveals the growing appetite for the ultra-informal Social Care Curry Club – formed after a chance exchange on Twitter.

As networking goes it’s unusual but truly believe its potential for good is probably much better than corridor meetings and snatched conversations at care conferences.

The basic premise is very simple. If you love curry and love social care, then you’re in, so says the online article.

There are no issues of ‘rank’ or status, it really doesn’t matter if you know plenty or little of social care and it really doesn’t matter what field of social care you are in.

The only rule: No selling.

According to the article: “People come as themselves, they are not representing their organisation, there are no pitches or presentations, no PowerPoints, prezzis or podcasts. This is quite simply curry and chat.”

The piece goes on the say that despite budget cuts and low morale, people are spending their own cash to attend these meetings.

There’s no clever answer to answer why these 12 ‘eat-ups’ across the country (and one in Canada) are so successful and why they have attracted the director general for social care, no less.

Access, as the article points out is easy and I would agree that a lack of structure could also be key.

So far, supported by a Twitter account, a blog and an Eventbrite page, a network of 700 people has been built.

I believe this is a remarkable organic response to a social care crisis primarily caused by the withdrawal of central government funding. It doesn’t matter what the politics are or who is to blame. What concerns these people, I’m sure, is how to continue to deliver credible care in the face of such austerity.

There is an odd comfort found in meeting likeminded professionals struggling with the same kind of business issues.

But social care is like no other business model with many providers doing what they do because simply, it’s their Raison D’etre. Yes, they want profit – all business does – but over and over again I hear they just want to be able to maintain excellence in caring.

There has been poor leadership from successive government on the issues of caring and funding. This current one is no different and I can’t decide whether they should be shamed or encouraged by the Social Care Curry Club gatherings.

Oddly, I’m reminded of an inscription on the Statue of Liberty, which reads:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free . . .

Among the korma, masala, Rogan josh, the aloo gobi and byriani, are these the ‘tired’ and ‘huddles masses, yearning to breath free’?

Perhaps they are and just maybe, from this unusual groundswell, some common sense will decant to Parliament, to the financial movers and shakers who really do hold the keys to what history will write of this difficult social care period.

‘Unsustainable’ debt in the care sector

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I feel bombarded with information and papers on this and that at infinitum. And nestling in the pile was a report from Company Watch, a specialist outfit at tracking and predicting financial risk.

And guess what they are telling us? The care home industry is in a state of crisis and that a third of British care homes have notched up unsustainable levels of debt. I have no idea whether these ‘facts’ are well founded of representative of the care sector in the Midlands that we serve.

The report has given rise to fears that many care homes could crumble under their financial commitments, the same fate that befell Southern Cross.

The company – a giant in the care industry, went belly up in 2011.

The report says: “At the time the largest company in the sector, Southern Cross had been funding the majority of its growth through short-term liabilities. But in May 2011, it could no longer meet its £230m rental obligations and went into administration.”

The collapse spelt untold misery to more than 30,000 elderly residents and their families.

According to Company Watch, hundreds of other operators are similarly at risk, with “off the scale” levels of borrowing.

Company Watch has surveyed 4,872 firms, operating 20,000 care homes across the UK between them. Of these, 1,449 have been rated as “financially vulnerable”. The report says these have a one in four chance of needing a lifeline.

Almost 700 were also found to be “zombie” business, companies with liabilities worth more than their assets.

The combined negative net worth of these “zombies” came in at £217m.

The report was published in the online Telegraph last month, so given the state of the economy I can’t see it being out of date.

My worry is whether the current gloomy industry profile is a direct result of the government’s frugal approach to funding care.

Frankly, I suspect it is.

Almost 700 were also found to be “zombie” business, companies with liabilities worth more than their assets. The combined negative net worth of these “zombies” came in at £217m.

Nick Hood, Company Watch business risk analyst and author of the report, said in the Telegraph: “The thing that worries me the most is the unusually high level of borrowing across the industry.

“Gearing (what does this mean?) currently stands at 82pc. Care homes are essentially property businesses that provide a service, so you would expect the figure to be high but not above 60pc.

“I’m running a warning flag up the mast for government and the Care Commission,” he added. “Just imagine what could happen if interest rates rise.”

I can imagine. Help!

Lib Dems vote for higher standards in home care

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Delegates at the Lib Dems’ Conference  approved a motion aimed at raising the standards of home care for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable.

It sets out plans to ensure patients are treated by the best-trained staff and to prevent abuse, bullying and harassment of home care staff and patients – all very nobel.

But of course, this little snipped is from their recent party conference, now eclipsed by news from the Labour event. I wonder what else our MPs will promise. Winning numbers for the Saturday Lottery tickets?

I really do find it hard to believe any of theses electioneering type of promises. Was there ever a time when our leading MPs were without advisers, spin doctors and media managers? Of course, I’m far too young to remember.

Providers of poor care to face the courts

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Norman Lamb has confirmed Government plans to prosecute health care providers for neglect and poor care.

Nugget: Despite care scandals aplenty, there has not been a single prosecution for ‘neglect’ or ‘poor care’ since the Care Quality Commission was set up. I really do wonder when we will see some action brought against unscrupulous providers. Thankfully, they are few and far between.