Council leaders have backed the government’s decision to scrap the annual performance assessment of local authority adult care departments, but providers have warned that poor commissioning could go unchallenged as a result.
Care services minister Paul Burstow announced the APA’s demise at last week’s National Children and Adult Services Conference, meaning that councils no longer have to submit performance data to the Care Quality Commission with immediate effect.
Burstow said he had acted on councils’ concerns that the APA did not effectively tackle under-performance, and told town hall leaders that he wanted to rein back “regulatory pressures that are needlessly burdensome on your day-to-day work”.
The APA, introduced in 2001-2, had succeeded in driving up standards to a certain level but had outlived its usefulness in encouraging further improvement, said Paul Najsarek, chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ standards and performance network.
“There was quite a big cost to comply with the APA and in a world of reduced resources it’s good that we free that up. It wasn’t particularly helpful that everything was specified nationally when you had to take decisions about local priorities.”
Councils will still face inspections if the CQC identifies risks to service users in their area. However, providers, who will still be assessed and regulated by the CQC, warned that poor council commissioning decisions would go unchallenged with the removal of the APA.
“Poor quality commissioning often leads to bad provision, and the point of an integrated regulator was that they were going to have power to support quality in both commissioning and provision,” warned Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association.
Najsarek said councils admitted that commissioning needed to improve, particularly to take account of greater personalisation of services, but that the APA was not the best way of doing this.
Plans for how councils should be judged in future will be produced for consultation before the end of the year, as part of a proposed outcomes framework. This will include information on how inspections will be triggered.
Burstow said he wanted to councils to face “real time, ongoing” assessments of their performance, not “artificial snapshots”. But he said that the new system should be based around “local accountability” and “sector-led, mutual support”, not central intervention.
This was backed by Najsarek, who said councils were already supporting each other to improve in adult care through regional joint improvement partnerships and peer reviews. He said users and carers needed to play a much bigger role in the performance assessment process, facilitated by the publication of transparent data on performance by councils. One option would be for an annual report to be published on adult care performance by a local user organisation.
The CQC will produce its final APA report on 25 November, for the 2009-10 year. The Local Government Association has called for the equivalent process for children’s services, operated by Ofsted, to also be scrapped.
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