Martin John, new chief executive of the Office of the Public Guardian, wants social care professionals to tell him how the organisation can improve in its second year. Anabel Unity Sale reports
Most first birthdays are cause for celebration. However, the first birthday of the Office of the Public Guardian on 1 October has received a muted response from the social care world after a troublesome 12 months.
Last summer, publication of its first annual report revealed it had struggled with its workload, experienced “significant capacity issues” and failed its targets for registering applications from the people it was set up to serve. Looks like the birthday party was shaping up to be a rather sedate affair then.
But not for Martin John. In July he became the new public guardian and chief executive of the OPG, replacing Richard Brook, former chief executive of mental health charity Mind. John’s palpable enthusiasm for tackling the issues the agency faces fills his spacious office in north London’s famous brutalist skyscraper, the Archway Tower. “It has been a brilliant three months, really exciting and challenging,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time going back to the floor and working alongside people to find out what the job really is.”
Launched as a result of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the OPG exists to “promote the financial, health and welfare affairs of people who lack mental capacity”. As part of the Ministry of Justice, it does this by monitoring and regulating the individuals who make decisions about financial, health and welfare matters on other people’s behalf. The OPG registers applications for enduring powers of attorney (EPA), which cover financial issues, and lasting powers of attorney (LPA), which cover health and welfare decisions from people who are concerned they will lose capacity. It also supervises the 24,000 professional and lay deputies appointed by the Court of Protection to act on behalf of those who have lost capacity.
Unlike his predecessor John does not have a social care background. He joined the MoJ in September 2007 and led the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal before becoming business development director for the new Tribunals Service. The role of public guardian attracted him, he says, because of the opportunity to shape the organisation. “The challenge is looking at the current situation, seeing what we can do to improve matters and then using the opportunity to say ‘can we do things differently in the light of what we have seen over the first year?'”
A major criticism levelled at the agency has been the time it has taken for people to have their LPA registered – 13 weeks instead of the agency’s target of nine (although this does include a 42-day statutory waiting period). This problem was compounded by the fact that people were not able to make EPAs so they had to make LPAs instead. In its first year the OPG dealt with 20,000 LPAs and 40,000 EPAs – double its expectations – and 60% of its workload comprised LPAs. Each day it receives 1,000 calls and has 1,700 visitors to its website.
One reason for the delays, says John, is that the LPA forms take longer to complete than those by the previous Public Guardianship Office, and has resulted in more mistakes, invalidating them. “In the last sample we looked at the proportion of invalid applications was down to below 10% when earlier this year it was 40%,” he says. John is also pleased the OPG has cleared the backlog of applications since the annual report was published.
Maintaining one’s independence and making decisions about how one lives is something most people take for granted. With this in mind John wants to promote the work he does as a public guardian and the OPG, and in the process involve partner organisations, such as social services.
“I am keen to explore those life events when people might have cause to think our services might be useful to them,” he says. The OPG has had LPA applications from soldiers going to Iraq, as well as people marrying or making a will.
The public guardian’s board will publish its report this month alongside a 12 to 18-month review of the Mental Capacity Act. John is eager to hear proposals from social care professionals and service users on how the OPG can improve.