‘Ivory tower’ social care institute to be revamped and given more power

Ministers have signalled their intention to overhaul the Social
Care Institute for Excellence by proposing to hand it
responsibility for key Department of Health agencies.

The proposal – agreed in principle by Scie pending assurances from
the DoH that its fundamental remit will not change – will see the
integration into Scie of the seven health and social care
programmes that make up the Care Services Improvement Partnership
(see box).  It would involve the legal transfer of around 150 staff
and £30m of government funding, with targets being established
by a service level agreement. The programmes would be mainly run
from the existing eight regional offices of the National Institute
for Mental Health in England.

Community Care understands that ministers have been unimpressed
with Scie’s progress since it was set up four years ago, feeling
that it has too little profile and, according to one government
source, is living in an “ivory tower”. Taking on the partnership’s
work would give it more “power and clout” and enable it to
disseminate best practice information more effectively by tapping
into the agencies’ regional networks.

The move has also been prompted by the efficiency drive in the DoH
and the low priority social care currently has in the department.
Officials hope the transfer will give Scie more influence in
negotiations with the NHS. Merging seven separate agencies into one
should also enable better commissioning of work.

But the proposals have prompted fears that Scie could be swamped by
a group of health agencies that might dilute its social care focus.
Greater ties with government could also undermine its

A senior academic said: “There is a danger it could become a
government-run think-tank, with its role to disseminate government
thinking on best practice.”

But Scie chair Jane Campbell said the institute was determined
future work would be governed by the same evidence-based and
user-led criteria as before, and that maintaining Scie’s
independence and focus on social care would be paramount.

The proposal is expected to be formally announced next week and
consulted on until January. If agreed, the merger would be
completed by April 2005. 

DoH partnership programmes include:

  • National Institute for Mental Health in England.
  • Valuing People Support Team.
  • Health and the Social Care Change Agent Team. 
  • National Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Support
  • Integrated Care Network.
  • Integrating Community Equipment Support Team.
  • Change for Children.

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