Thursday, January 24, 2013

'Independence' crucial to quality social care standards

Some mildly disappointing news today. Longstanding visitors to my blog may recall my involvement with a social care company called EuropeanCare during the 3 yrs between my being an AM and an MP. I didn't actually work for this company, but after meeting its inspirational Chairman, Anoup Treon, I agreed to set up and chair a Welsh Advisory Board within the company. It was a sort of 'internal audit' system, but my board was to have complete independence to advise as we thought proper. First initiative we took (and the best) was to set up a Lay Visitor Scheme, where an approved team of individuals with relevant experience were appointed to call unannounced at any home, at any time, with rights to see anything they wanted (always in pairs) . All managers of EuropeanCare homes in Wales were signed up to the scheme, after some training. It was innovative and I thought it a terrific success, the key element being its total independence from the company. The scheme was so well regarded that it spread to other regions of the UK. I still think it was a real example of best practice. Lots of other key people thought it was as well.

When I was elected an MP, I stood down from my involvement with EuropeanCare. But I have retained an interest in what happens to the company. There has been much turbulence in the social care sector, and much in EuropeanCare as well. The then chair, Anoup, and senior personnel remain friends of mine but have left the company. Its now being run by a new team led by Ted Smith, whom I've met but do not know. Its to be expected that a new CEO will make changes, and he most certainly has. While its not for me to comment on these changes (and I don't in any case have the competence) I am disappointed to learn today that the Lay Visitor scheme is being disbanded. The company is putting in place an in-house team to supervise standards. It could be that the focus is to be on 'compliance' - hugely important but different from the Lay Visitor Scheme. My disappointment stems from its being in-house, which suggests to me that it is much more about compliance. My view is that the key to success of any quality standards scheme, and the only way it will win the confidence of national quality standards authorities if its at arms length - and not in-house.

This general area of social care audit has to be strengthened. This is why I retain an interest in how all social care providers deliver services. After the horrors in the sector that have littered our media over the last few years, supervision of quality standards has to be addressed by Government. Only last week, I joined former Lib Dem Minister, Paul Burstow in his attempt to introduce legislation establishing failures in 'corporate responsibility' as a criminal offence to punish the managers as well as the delivers of care services. Change is needed. It may well be that EuropeanCare's new system will prove effective, but it does leave me feeling disappointed. Seems to me to be going in the wrong direction. I hope it works out OK though - for the sake of the residents.

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