Concern as government ‘disbands’ safeguarding advisory body

The Department of Health risks losing out on vital sector expertise on adult safeguarding after it 'disbanded' a key advisory group, weeks before the publication of reforms to the system. The DH denies the claims.

Gary Fitzgerald

The government risks losing out on expert input on adult safeguarding reforms after it ‘disbanded’ an advisory group on the issue, group members have warned.

Though the Department of Health denied it had disbanded the national advisory group on adult safeguarding, three members told Community Care that the last meeting was held on 10 May. They voiced concerns that valuable sector input would be lost as the government prepares to publish a social care White Paper and draft bill that would put adult safeguarding on a statutory footing in England.

The group, which had existed in some form since the last government’s review of the No Secrets guidance in 2008-9, included representatives from council, NHS, social care, voluntary sector and police bodies.

Its membership was broadened and terms of reference changed last year; however in February, it was announced that the group would be disbanded and replaced by smaller topic-based consultative groups, said group member and Action on Elder Abuse chief executive Gary FitzGerald.

“It is of great concern that the Department of Health has disbanded this important forum in the same week that the Queen’s Speech announced a draft bill and White Paper
on social care. A multi-disciplinary forum of this type is a crucial aspect to ensuring that all key stakeholders can both contribute to adult safeguarding developments and also ensure appropriate scrutiny of government plans in this important area.”

While smaller topic-based groups would be valuable, they were not a substitute for the wider advisory group, said Bridget Warr, chief executive of the United Kingdom Homecare Association, who also sat on the forum.

“My impression was that it was probably unique. It pulled together people from across the system,” she added. “I think [it’s worth] getting everybody in a room together to talk about the key issues and to have consistency of membership.”

“There was real expertise around the table,” said fellow group member Toby Williamson, head of development and later life at the Mental Health Foundation. “It had the potential to be a very important sounding board for government plans around safeguarding. I certainly think that it will be a loss of that expertise and experience.”

Warr said there were a number of “unresolved” issues surrounding the plans to legislate on adult safeguarding, including the membership of adult safeguarding boards and the definition of safeguarding, that the advisory group could help resolve.

In addition, the DH has issued mixed messages on the threshold it would propose for adult safeguarding interventions. In March care services minister Paul Burstow said it would cover adults who may be in need of social care, who were unable to safeguard themselves and were at risk of harm, days after a DH official had said that only those at risk of significant harm who also met the other categories would be covered. The DH then issued a statement saying that, despite the minister’s comments, the government’s policy was to retain the current significant harm threshold in No Secrets.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The advisory group isn’t being disbanded. But we do want to help the group work more effectively as a forum for collaboration, so we are looking at how we can do that. The Queen’s Speech announced publication of a draft Care and Support Bill which will set out the first legislative framework for safeguarding adults in England. As we move towards the bill, we will continue to get the best advice on safeguarding from experts on the advisory group.”

Image: Tom Parkes

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