Listen to service users

Evans evaluates the success of the new national organisations at accepting
input from service users.

brave new world of social care began on 1 April, designed to improve the
standard of services we receive. How can we tell if it is making a difference?
Perhaps it is possible to have a hint of what we might expect by looking at how
seriously our input as service users is taken as the new structures emerge.
There is a danger that the emphasis on user involvement in these new bodies
becomes a token tick box to complete for policy-makers.

Certainly the four new national
organisations, training body Topss, General Social Care Council, National Care
Standards Commission and Social Care Institute for Excellence involved users in
their planning through the Shaping Our Lives Network and other initiatives.
Topss, the first of the new organisations, built on the links of its
predecessor CCETSW but we still had to lobby hard to obtain user involvement at
board level on acceptable terms. Now Topss is trying to build regional forums
that users will participate in. The subject of social care staff’s training is
dear to many users at local level and is seen as a solution to the issue of
inappropriate staff attitudes that many have to put up with.

The new care standards will give the NCSC
authority to make changes to our lives. I was the user representative on a
government-appointed adviser group when the commission was set up. I was
pleased to be invited but felt isolated, having no opportunity to network with
users on other working groups. Disabled people were involved in setting the
standards for the Care Standards Act 2000. But residential users I work with
claim some of the standards do not fit with their priorities. NCSC chairperson
Anne Parker’s statement about the need for flexibility in talking to users
("Beauty or beast", 21 March 2002) as the standards are implemented
is welcomed.

Scie has the impossible tasks of responding
to unrealistic expectations and making itself relevant to users who have
traditionally been excluded from contributing knowledge about good social care
practice. Messages are mixed here – certainly appointing user involvement
advocates gives us hope, but the current "listening exercise" seems
strangely pass‚ in style as it expects a user to want to travel to distant
regional meetings alongside two professionals in each authority area.

But it is the changes happening locally that
are more likely to affect our daily experience of service use. Will our hard
fought-for gains survive the dissolution of social services departments and
translate to the new structures of care trusts, where social services staff
will be outnumbered by staff trained in the medical model? All organisations
turn inward when restructuring. All we can hope is that they value our
expertise as the organisational culture changes and support our involvement
from the start.

Evans is a disabled person, chairperson of Wiltshire & Swindon Users’
Network and manager of Leonard Cheshire Disabled People’s Forum.

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