The Big Interview: Lesley Barker – St Helens Council

St Helens Council’s direct payments team manager Lesley Barker tells Natalie Valios how direct payments champions have helped to increase take-up locally

When did you join the direct payments team?

The team was restructured in August 2006 and three new team members took up post between then and November 2006 – which is when I joined as the team’s manager.

Before this there were only two people working in direct payments. We work in partnership with the Coalition of Disabled People, and three of its advisers offer a support service to our service users.

How many champions are there and what are their roles?

We asked each of the 10 care management teams for a volunteer to be a champion. All 10 are either care managers or assessment and review workers.

There are three from older people’s teams and one each from the physical and sensory disability team, learning disability team, review team, hospital team, elderly mentally ill team, mental health team and reablement team.

There was an introductory meeting in March 2007. Following that, we formed a champions group. Their role is as a point of contact to bring issues, problems, and suggestions to the group, for example whether a specific bit of equipment would be available through a direct payment or whether someone has capacity to consent to a direct payment if they have Alzheimers. They should also share information and good practice about creative use of direct payments.

What training has the direct payments team done?

We have given presentations to colleagues, multi-disciplinary teams, social work ­students and community groups. We’ve also held training sessions. Originally, these were mainly for care managers, but in November we had an event for everybody to give an overview of direct payments.

After that, we were invited to talk to various teams about the paperwork they use to get referrals through to us and what happens after that, the timescale, how the assessment is calculated into money, and what the payments can be used for.

Our champions have also introduced a drop-in surgery at one of our area offices where the three older people’s teams are based.

Surveys have been sent to all service users, we have produced an information leaflet and are producing a DVD.

Was there reluctance from staff to push direct payments a year ago?

We are further down the line than we were 12 months ago. I think there was a lack of confidence and knowledge rather than reluctance. Some staff didn’t have the confidence to think outside the box of traditional services. Sometimes they didn’t have the foresight and it’s about getting them to think differently.

Sharing good practice examples helps, like the service user who used her short break money to visit her son in Scotland rather than for local respite. Sometimes they are surprised at how direct payments can be used it can be an eye-opener. We try to get the message over that it’s not as complicated or bureaucratic as people might think. I think we’ve achieved that.

Have there been any problems with the uptake of direct payments in certain client groups?

We have struggled with the uptake in the mental health team. Care managers says this is because of the excellent voluntary sector in St Helens in this field. Users can tap into free services so they don’t need to come to social services and use direct payments where they can be asked to contribute towards their support.

Do you think there’s a misconception about whether people who are mentally ill have the capacity to use a direct payment?

I haven’t come across this, but perhaps we need to look at that angle. If that is the case, we need to press on them that it isn’t as complex as people might think.

One of our older people’s teams also struggles with uptake. The team is based in the most deprived area in the borough and says most relatives and possible personal assistants are on benefits and would fear losing them if they were employed as a PA.

Has uptake of direct payments increased since the champions were introduced?

Yes. In March 2006 there were 172 a year later there were 216 and in February 2008 there were 291.

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