A blog about Care Act Easements.
There has been controversy over the use of care act easements by some councils. As one of the few councils that has gone to stage 4 of the easements, Solihull has come in for criticism.
As opposition health and adult social care spokesperson, I have been watching this closely. It's not my job to defend the council - my role is to scrutinise and to offer constructive criticism where appropriate. However, I'm seeing a considerable amount of misinformation going around. This worries me because it has the potential to cause vulnerable people needless anxiety, and so I want to clear a few things up.
Firstly, this is not about saving money; it's about capacity during a crisis. Difficulty recruiting care staff was an ongoing problem before COVID. With additional demands and many staff having to isolate, this became critical. Officers were concerned that if this wasn't managed, the system would fail in an uncontrolled way and some people with severe needs could be left without care.
Solihull has also taken a very strict interpretation of the guidance on easements. Day centres have been closed because of social distancing requirements - but this has left many people with unmet care needs that the council hasn't yet been able to fill in other ways. Our director's view is that "to us, that looks like a care act easement". The suspicion is that other councils must be using similar measures, but not regarding them as easements.
The benefit, from my perspective, of taking this interpretation of the guidance is that it allows for transparency and accountability. I get regular reports on what services and care packages are being affected, and what is being done to meet these needs and move back towards a normal level of service. The easements in place actually provide reassurance that those needs can't now be ignored, and the current level of service cannot become the "new normal", as might be the danger if things were fudged or pushed under the radar.
Nor are the easements being used to justify complacency about the level of unmet need. There is a great deal of hard work being done to ensure that people aren't being left without support. The people who are affected have all been contacted individually to discuss how to manage the situation. In some cases direct payments have been put in place if people have been able to source their own care. Some of the feedback that the department has received from some of the people affected suggests that staff are handling this sensitively and going above and beyond the call of duty. I am told that as the situation is improving, the department is now looking at trying to reinstate some care packages. Certainly, no further easements are planned at present.
I have asked for transparency and clear lines of communication, and that has been taken on board. Our director has stayed in close contact with me throughout, and has asked for my input and welcomed questions. When I have raised concerns, she's called me (often late in the evening) to candidly talk through what is going on, the reasons for it, and what her department is doing to minimise the impact on vulnerable people. From these conversations, I'm aware of the incredible work being done by the whole department.
I'm certainly no cheerleader for our local political administration and have been very criticical in other areas. However, this isn't about them. Social care was a sector in crisis before COVID and what we're seeing are the consequences of national government's failure to address it. Local authority social care departments are stuck with the job of trying to trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat and keep things running as well as humanly possible. Our officers have been exceptional during this crisis, and I would like to recognise that.
As always, I'd love to hear from any residents with questions, concerns or personal experience to share on this issue. Where there are problems, I will always endeavour to get these addressed for you.