Councils get call to arms from new social care chief

Sarah Pickup
Image caption Sarah Pickup is the new president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services

In many ways, this is perhaps the worst possible time to be a director of adult social care.

For one thing, councils are having to bear the brunt of the government's spending cuts.

What is more, all the signs are that the long overdue reform of the system of elderly care is still some years away - despite the assurances of ministers.

But Sarah Pickup, the new president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), is still optimistic about the future.

The Hertfordshire director of health and community services will tell colleagues at the association's spring seminar on Wednesday that a "counsel of despair" should be avoided.

Instead, she wants to focus on what councils can do while they wait for government to come up with a solution to the mounting problems facing the sector.

Independent lives

Hardly a week goes by without more headlines of the system being in crisis.

But in an interview with the BBC, Mrs Pickup said she did not want to see councils "stand still" waiting for a "pot of gold".

"It is great older people are living longer lives, but there are some things we can do to stop people having higher level needs as they age.

"What we should not assume is that if they have an incident - a broken hip or stay in hospital - that they are not going to recover from it.

"I think there is too much inclination to say you are getting older now and you need help - when actually if we give you a bit more intensive help in the short term we can prevent you having needs in the long term.

"We should never have a situation where you go into hospital, you have a bit of care, it continues until you die or go into a care home.

"We should have a situation where you come out of hospital and we try to get you better."

She said there was a lot councils and the NHS could do together to help people recover from their problems - or at least learn to live with them in a way that allowed them to continue to live independent lives.

She said an example of this was what had been achieved at her local authority though an enablement service.

The team provides six-week programmes of rehabilitation, giving people leaving hospital and those requiring help in the community access to everything from physiotherapy and telecare to befriending services.

The service has had such an impact that half its clients do not need long-term support from social care once they have been helped.

Increasing confidence

Mrs Pickup said: "If your movement suffers because of a stroke you can learn to deal with that and live with it. You just need support.

"It may be about increasing a person's confidence or getting them some equipment. But it certainly does not need to be long-term support, or not for everyone anyway."

She believes this approach is essential as the government's reform of the system looks like it will still be some years away.

Ministers have promised to publish a White Paper later this year, but the most controversial aspect of the changes - the funding of the system - is not going to be part of that.

Instead, they have said that a progress report will be issued, which is basically a statement of intent.

It means any significant changes to the system will be years away.

But Mrs Pickup said: "There is plenty we can do now and there are some really good examples out there already.

"They aren't the solution to the problem in its entirety. But it does mean that we shouldn't just sit around waiting for someone to wave a wand.

"No-one is going to wave a wand. Even if there is additional funding it is not going to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

And, unsurprisingly for someone who is a trained accountant, Mrs Pickup also has clear views about the funding situation for social care.

Care services minister Paul Burstow recently provoked anger among charities and campaigners for his suggestion there was no funding gap because the government was providing extra money.

She said she could understand what he was getting at as by the end of this Parliament the government would be providing an extra £2bn for the sector.

But she said that had to be seen in the context of the overall cut to the local government funding pot from central government, which will have been reduced by more than a quarter at the end of this parliament.

Research by ADASS suggested that councils had been unable to use the extra money to completely protect front-line social care budgets.

The figures obtained from social services directors showed that funding had had to be cut by £1bn in the past year - about 8% of the social care budget.

Mrs Pickup said: "What is has meant is that we have been able to minimise the extent of the cuts... but they are still happening."

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