Devon Council wants better outcomes with fewer staff

A radical transformation of adult social work at Devon Council promises to deliver better outcomes for service users at lower cost with fewer staff, practitioners and managers from the South West heard last week.

A meeting organised by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services south west branch heard the county was rolling out a model in which the care management role has been broken up to improve efficiency and build services around users.

Under the plan, qualified social workers will predominantly be managing complex cases, as part of fully integrated health and social care teams, with assessment and care planning for users with lower-level needs carried out by phone by other social care staff. New brokerage teams, including finance and procurement staff, will arrange services.

Director of adult and community services David Johnstone claimed other councils had taken elements of the model further than Devon, but the council was among the first to implement it wholesale.

He added: “There are different skills required for different stages, not all of which require social work training.”

There was some scepticism at last week’s meeting about the use of telephone assessments. One practitioner questioned whether information gleaned from “non-verbal communication” and seeing someone’s home would be lost.

Johnstone defended the assessments, adding: “We are talking about service users knowing what they want. We are turning ‘the professional knows best’ attitude on its head.”

However, he admitted there had been issues with trade unions over a planned halving of occupational therapist numbers.

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Mithran Samuel

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