By David Pearson
In a piece last week for Community Care, Blair McPherson took Adass broadly, and me personally, to task for not having pursued the interests of social care and the people whom we help sufficiently passionately. He particularly singles out an interview which I gave on BBC Breakfast, on 8 January, when I was asked for my views on the current crisis within accident and emergency departments.
At that time I was in the middle of negotiations designed to secure further funding for social care services to address these pressures. This money – £25m until the end of the financial year for the most hard-pressed areas – was announced yesterday. Given the intensity and complexities of those discussions I think I would have been perfectly justified in not taking part in the BBC Breakfast programme.
However, I did. Blair thinks I should have been angrier, and asks us to question whether Adass should be taking a much tougher line in public with government, rather than working behind the scenes to influence it. He is entitled to his opinion. But others who listened to the interview (readers can judge for themselves below) have said that it is one of my better interviews. No – you really can’t please all of the people all of the time!
David Pearson on BBC Breakfast
There had been a good deal of confusion in the public mind about the causes of a deterioration in waiting times in A&E departments, and some anger that social care was being unfairly blamed for delayed transfers of care from hospital, which appeared to be increasingly seen as the sole cause of the problem.
I had a responsibility to put this right, firstly because I know what a fantastic job social care staff have been doing up and down the country in the face of unprecedented levels of referrals and the need to arrange care and support for people who need it on leaving hospital. And secondly, because while we are not the cause, we are part of the solution, and investing in social care has to be part of this solution. As Blair kindly acknowledges, I have repeatedly asserted that it makes no sense to protect the health service budgets and pledge it additional funding while continuing to cut social care.
Last July, our annual budget survey revealed that councils had made savings of £3.53bn in adult social care budgets since 2010-11 in response to central government cuts to local authorities.
In many of the more than 50 radio and TV interviews I have done as president I have continually made the point that this is unsustainable and highlighted the impact on people with disability or illness who need social care. Having started off as a social worker in 1982 and spent the past ten years as a director, I have no doubt about the huge contribution that social care can make to transforming people’s lives to help ensure independence, choice and control.
The role of Adass is to be a leader of our sector. This means we need to do whatever we can to inform, influence and shape government policy and public opinion; support the implementation of government policy when it is set, and provide support to directors, senior colleagues and local authorities in leading social care with partners, providers, service users and carers in the best way that we can.
We are not a political organisation or a union, but a charity with these objectives. Our contribution is to do this using the best evidence we can to shine a light on the issues we face and the solutions.
No point in anger
There is no point being invited onto national radio or television and `getting angry’. This will always undermine the power of the points we wish to make, because we want people to listen and understand. I do not think that the public as a rule listen to points made in anger or trust in what an angry person is saying.
Being president of Adass is a privilege. I care deeply about the future – not of social care, but of what I know it can do for people’s lives. I have made and will continue to make the point during the rest of my presidency that the key issue in all this for the country is how much the fifth richest nation in the world prioritises services to help people meet essential needs and live good lives. I do not think austerity is the issue alone, but priorities. As directors we have a responsibility to use the money we do have in the best way possible.
Equally it is important that governments plan for the increasing numbers of people who need care and support and recognise that social care will need to have a larger slice of the national cake. It is, after all, only 2% of our expenditure as a nation. Relatively minor increases can make a major difference.
Things are not going to change because someone gets angry on radio or does not work with the government of the day. Our contribution to the development of the Care Act, in main thrust and detail, has been considerable and I am confident that the final legislation is all the better for our seasoned input.
We have done a lot of work this year to make sure that there is a greater understanding of the contribution of social care and to argue for more investment in the interests of people who use services. It would be discourteous, impolitic and indiscreet to go into precise details. But I hope Blair and Community Care readers will take on trust my assertion that those arguments have demonstrably borne fruit, as the money announced
Changing the media narrative
Meanwhile, a media story has been turned: what began as a simple story of A&E departments awash with people failed by social services has become a story about those cuts in social care, the interplay between health and social care and the importance social care services are to the wider health system alongside which we operate.
The way in which change really happens is for there to be a wide coalition of people and organisations who can influence the public and politicians by explaining the important contribution of social care. We need a `movement’ of people who will make the case in the best way they can.
We are all leaders in this. We can all, as citizens, talk to our local parliamentary candidates as we approach a general election, and discuss the issues with our friends and families. Also, social care pundits can exercise some true leadership, perhaps, by advocating in their articles the best approaches to delivering the social care services that we can all be proud of.
David Pearson is president of Adass, 2014-15, and corporate director, adult social care, health and public protection, at Nottinghamshire Council. (Photo credit: Neil O’Connor). The sound clip above works on the following browsers: Safari 6, Chrome 35, Firefox 28 and Internet Explorer 10.