DH failed to act on key recommendations of violence task force

The Department of Health has failed to act on key recommendations of a £2m action plan to reduce violence against social care staff, Community Care has learned.

In 2001, an expert taskforce called for measures including the inspection of social care employers’ policies on staff safety, but sector leaders say implementation “fizzled out” even though the government had accepted all of the recommendations.

Now, former members of the taskforce are urging the government to review the issue of violence against social care staff, after Lancashire community support worker Philip Ellison was fatally stabbed at a supported living scheme earlier this month. Robert Searle, 51, has been charged with his murder. The taskforce was set up after Wandsworth approved social worker Jenny Morrison was stabbed to death by a mental health service user in 1998.

Government ‘did little’ to implement plan

Chris Davies, former chair of the taskforce, told Community Care he was disappointed that the government “did very little” to implement the action plan. “They left it very much to individual agencies and employers to take the message on, and the government did not pursue it as purposefully as they should have done,” he said.

Davies, a previous president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said the government should “revisit” the issue in the light of changes to regulation and employment since 2001.

The taskforce recommended that the General Social Care Council code of practice should include a standard “which makes clear the responsibilities of all social care employers for the safety of their staff”. This was adopted and is still in place, but the government failed to follow through other recommendations to inspect social care employers against this standard.

Assessment of staff safety standard dropped

The Social Services Inspectorate and National Care Standards Commission – which merged in 2004 to form the Commission for Social Care Inspection – initially required information on this from employers, but this ceased after they were “satisfied” the standard had been achieved, Community Care understands. According to the CSCI, there is no current performance measure for regulated social care employers relating to staff safety.

New AssetFormer taskforce member Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said: “There should have been sharper focus on the inspectorate recommendation to check policies on violence against staff. It wasn’t taken on, so councils didn’t really grasp it.” Ahmed said it was “timely” for the government to review the issue, ahead of the creation of the new Care Quality Commission, which will take on the inspection and regulation of health and adult social care next year.

More staff working in people’s homes

She also pointed out that more staff would be required to work in people’s homes as part of the new personalisation agenda. “There is emphasis on training but not on welfare of staff,” Ahmed said.

Writer Terry Philpot, who was a member of the taskforce while editor-in-chief of Community Care, said: “Despite all our efforts, I have never been convinced that government and employers allowed us to make the impact that the problem of violence warranted.”

Former taskforce member Andrea Rowe, chief executive of Skills for Care, said: “It would be better for the Department of Health to commission a refresh and republish what has been done rather than set up yet another talking group.”

Former taskforce members Helen Dent, chief executive of the Family Welfare Association, and Lesley Rimmer, chief executive of the UK Care Home Association, also backed calls for a government review.

£97m for NHS to tackle staff safety

Rimmer pointed out that the government had pledged £97m to tackle violence against NHS staff from 2007-11, asking: “Where is the equivalent for social care workers?”

When asked what had been done to follow up the action plan, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “It is the responsibility of employers to ensure staff are safe and not put at risk. Local authorities are expected to agree their own action plan on staff protection matters.”

How should the government tackle violence against social care workers? Have your say on CareSpace.

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