Social care losing out in pioneering Northumberland tie-up with NHS

The first care trust set up to commission health and adult social services is failing to give social care enough priority, a damning report published last week found.

The Commission for Social Care Inspection’s report into older people’s social care in Northumberland found services had not benefited from integration with health in a care trust since 2002.

The trust has delegated responsibility for most of Northumberland Council’s adult social care functions, including commissioning.
These run alongside primary care trust duties to commission health and provide community NHS services.

The report found the trust’s middle managers were overstretched and focused on health priorities at the expense of social care.

It added that the sector had little visibility in board meetings and performance and care management systems were weak.

The council, which retains overall accountability for adult social care, did not have a shared commissioning plan with the care trust, resulting in large variations in services for older people in different areas.

Although it said there was a strong commitment to improving services across both organisations, the report found too much money was tied up in traditional, residential services and safeguarding practice needed to improve.

The inspection in June came at a turbulent time for social care in the county, with financial pressures and doubts over the future of the care trust after the government’s reorganisation of primary care trusts.

Care trust chair Richard Houlden said: “We acknowledge that many of the trust’s original ambitions for adult social care are yet to be realised.”

He said the trust was recruiting a director to “strengthen the management of services for older people”.

Council adult social care cabinet member Tony Reid said an action plan was being formulated in response to the report.

Rise of commissioner-provider
Northumberland’s problems come at a time when the idea of care trusts with commissioning and provider functions is being revived. Since last October, such trusts have been set up in Torbay and Solihull, with plans to set one up in North East Lincolnshire. There remain only 10 care trusts in England, half of which provide services only.

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 Mithran Samuel

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