Backing for single legal framework for adult care assessment

The Law Commission looks set to take forward plans to free social workers from adult care's "confusing and complex" assessment framework after they won "unanimous...

The Law Commission looks set to take forward plans to free social workers from adult care’s “confusing and complex” assessment framework after they won “unanimous support” from sector leaders.

The commission’s plans to introduce a single legal framework for assessment were strongly endorsed as part of its consultation on reforming the law on adult social care, which closed yesterday.

Currently, there are multiple and different duties to assess people for community care services, a situation the commission described as “overlapping, complex and confusing”.

Law commissioner Frances Patterson, who is leading the review, said respondents strongly backed its proposal to institute a single duty to assess in law, which would be triggered when a person appears to have needs that can be met by community care services or direct payments.

This is similar but not identical to the current duty under section 47 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990.

The commission is due to publish final plans to establish a single overarching statute for social care next April, bringing together 38 existing laws. It will be up to ministers to decide how this is taken forward.

Patterson said there was similarly strong backing for its proposal to streamline the system for determining eligibility for care services following assessment.

Other areas that received universal backing included:

• a duty to co-operate between councils and other agencies in social care.

• powers for councils to assess children over 16-years-old for adult services to smooth the transition process.

• a legal framework to enable users to move between areas and retain access to services.

She said: “The consultation process has gone extremely well, we are satisfied that it has been comprehensive.”

Patterson said the biggest area of debate was how a new social care law would define the boundary between health and social care in law. She said: “It’s one of the areas which has come up repeatedly. It’s possibly not as clear cut as it appeared in our consultation paper.”

The commission proposed to maintain the existing legal boundary between health and social care, which prohibits councils from providing services the NHS is under a duty to provide. However, Patterson said commentators said that the Law Commission’s approach had not adequately addressed the interaction between health and social care and some health laws would also need to form part of the review.

Those responding had also expressed concerns about confidentiality following proposals to require statutory authorities to share information in safeguarding cases.

Some feared the suggestion that a duty be introduced to reduce future levels of need for care through preventive services may not be realistic because many of those with lifelong conditions will always require some assistance, Patterson said.

The commission’s final report will be published on 28 April 2011 after the government asked for the date to be bought forward from the summer.

This is to ensure that the Law Commission’s proposals can be co-ordinated with those of the commission on long-term care funding, which is yet to be appointed.

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