Headlines: December 1st, 1998

The Government has given details of its plans for modernising a service that helps a million and a half families and costs nine billion pounds a year in its social services white paper.It’s an attempt to improve public confidence in a service that has provided multiple examples of problems and failures, such as the abuse of children while in care, and a lack of co-ordination when elderly people – “bedblockers” – are left in hospital while authorities argue over who should pay for care.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson says the reforms will change a service that suits its own needs rather than those of users by clarifying for both public and staff exactly what services should be provided and what standards can be expected.

For the first time, the Government has set down national objectives and priorities. All councils, who provide social services, will work to clear standards, and a new Fair Access to Care initiative will set down consistent rules for how decisions are made on who gets care services.

The new performance management arrangements will include an annual report showing how every council is performing, and there will be a clearer role for Government to take action where standards are not being met.

Among those targets – adult services must do more to promote independence, consistency, and provide convenient, user-centred services. One of the levers for achieving this is to award more of the social services budget to consumers who will make their own decision about how their care needs are met.

In children’s services the target of improving protection will be met through new inspection arrangements and a stronger national register of those unsuitable to work with children, and quality of care will be achieved by improving access for children in care to education and health services.

A new General Social Care Council (GSCC) will set practice and ethical standards for staff. As announced previously, there are also measures to improve joint working between health and social services, including allowing for pooling of budgets.

The Government has confirmed extra funding of an annual average of 3.1 per cent above inflation over the next three years. Some of the money will be locked into a Social Services Modernisation Fund which will be tied to conditions and targets, to ensure that the extra funds deliver the necessary service improvements.

The white paper can be found on the internet in executive summary form at www.doh.gov.uk/scg/wpaper.htm or in full at www.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm41/4169/4169.htm