Whistleblower says council ordered care packages delay

A council until recently imposed a blanket month-long delay on organising care packages for vulnerable adults in order to save money, a whistleblower has told Community Care.

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A council has denied claims that it advised social workers to impose a blanket one month delay on care packages for vulnerable adults.

Wirral Council’s policy on organising care packages advised social workers to wait four weeks unless their line managers issued a waiver, according to Andy Campbell, who was employed by the authority as an assistant support officer in its adult social services department between August 2009 and August 2011.

Emails seen by Community Care, sent between 2009 and late 2010, show the council’s brokerage team refusing to action requests for care until a waiver was submitted; a practice Campbell says was routine.

“The general feeling was that people should die or go into hospital or get their own care,” he said.

The policy was only revised after Campbell initiated internal whistleblowing procedures and brought the issue to the attention of senior management.

In a letter to Campbell dated 31 August 2011, Howard Cooper, Wirral’s interim director of social services, said the council’s policy was to process care packages “within” 20 days, not that referrals “should take” 20 days.

But he admitted: “Having read the documentation that was supplied to practitioners at the time, I can understand how the wording can be misinterpreted as meaning that packages of care should take 20 working days to process fully. That was not the department’s intention.”

In a separate statement to Community Care, Cooper said: “We strongly dispute the allegation that care packages have been, and continue to be delayed; our performance in assessing people is better than average for local authorities and well under four weeks. Allegations around saving money are conjecture.

“When Mr Campbell brought his concerns to our attention, I referred them to appropriate senior managers and our legal team who are satisfied with the action we took to address the initial lack of clarity.”

He said the council operated a triage system aal staff had the discretion to decide when care packages should be prioritised.

Ed Mitchell, legal columnist for Community Care and editor of Social Care Law Today, said: “The courts will afford a council a reasonable period of time to put a care service in place as they recognise that services cannot be conjured up out of thin air. But a policy of not even beginning the process of securing services until a set period of time has elapsed cannot be considered lawful.”

When Campbell joined the council as a support worker in August 2009, he had little knowledge of adult social care. He was given one week’s training before being asked to assess people’s eligibility for care packages, he said.

When he first questioned the apparent policy on delaying care packages, he was told the orders came “from above”. Colleagues advised him not to talk about it.

“I felt customers were suffering unnecessarily based on decisions with regard to saving money, not on their care needs,” he said.

When Campbell raised his concerns with his manager at the time, it fell on deaf ears. “There was a culture of blame and intimidation; raise a question and you were the problem,” Campbell added.

In April, Wirral Council was forced to apologise when it was found to have unfairly handled the case of another whistleblower, Martin Morton.

Morton was forced to resign after he challenged the overcharging of people with learning disabilities in residential care between 2000 and 2006.

Campbell took voluntary redundancy in August, partly due to stress.

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