Service user distressed after council persisted with plans to use assistive technology

The local authority trialled the cost-effective assistive technology solution despite being warned it was not suitable for the individual

A service user was caused distress after a council trialled an assistive technology solution without listening to the views of his parents, a local government and social care ombudsman report has found.

Devon council made the changes to X’s supported living arrangements when exploring cost effective ways of providing support.

Despite being advised by his parents, Mr and Mrs S, that the measures “would not be suitable for X”, who had Down’s Syndrome and learning disabilities, the council proceeded with the plans.

However, the trial was stopped after the care provider reported the service user was “refusing to co-operate” with training sessions and was being caused “distress”.

Night-time support withdrawn

In March 2017, X had an annual review of his care and support needs. The assessment identified he was unable to appreciate risk and seek help in an emergency and noted he “had difficulty handling appliances”.

A month later, the social worker who completed the original assessment told X’s parents there would be a reduction to their son’s direct payments. They explained this was because the night-time support would be withdrawn and replaced for a trial period with voice-controlled assistive technology.

Mr and Mrs S said they told the social worker the technology “would not be suitable”, explaining X had a hearing impairment and communication difficulties and took longer to process information.

They claim the social worker told them they did not know the assistive technology would not work and the council was obliged to try it as a more cost effective way of providing X’s support.

The parents complained to Devon council on 21 April, stating their concerns about X’s safety were being ignored.

‘Little correlation’

The council sent the couple a support plan for X’s care on 9 May and asked them to respond within seven days. It confirmed a voice activated assistive technology system would be installed at his accommodation, prompting Mr and Mrs S to write to the council again.

The couple said there was “little correlation between the discussions at X’s assessment and the support plan” and expressed the opinion that the reductions had been made “purely for financial reasons”, given that X’s condition had not improved since last year.

Devon council responded, saying X did not have specific needs for support at night, but did need support with communication to call for help in difficulties. It said it was trialling the technology for use in such circumstances and would review the trial if it found evidence it had been unsuccessful.

On 10 June, the care provider which ran the supported living accommodation contacted the council, saying it had evidence that X was unable to use the technology, and ten days later, the social worker emailed Mr and Mrs S to say there was now sufficient evidence from the care provider to show that X’s needs could not be met by assistive technology “at this point”.

Injustice caused

The ombudsman found fault with Devon council’s decision to introduce assistive technology to X’s supported living arrangements without taking into account the views of his parents or carers, stating it had caused him injustice.

It accepted the council was exploring ways of promoting independence, but warned it would have to balance innovation against risk, saying this time it had been “tipped too far”.

“It is difficult to see how the council otherwise reconciled the assessment that X was unable to respond appropriately to emergencies or let others know if he was in pain, with the introduction of voice activated technology for someone who was hearing impaired and had poor communication skills,” the ombudsman said.

It also found the council had delayed issuing a revised support plan, which made it clear X did need help to maintain his safety at night. The ombudsman said this caused Mr and Mrs S additional anxiety as they were “understandably fearful” the council could reintroduce the technology.

An ombudsman spokesperson said: “In a lot of cases, assistive technology can be immensely beneficial for vulnerable people who want to remain independent in their own homes.

“However, in this case the council did not take into account the person’s needs and abilities, and the assistive technology was entirely unsuitable: his assessed needs were too great for the technology to be useful.

Involving carers

Devon council has agreed to apologise to X and his parents for the way it imposed the technology.

The council agreed to offer a payment of £500 in recognition of the distress caused to him during that period.

It will also offer a payment of £250 to Mr and Mrs S for their trouble in making this complaint.

In the ombudsman’s report, Devon council said the request for assistive technology in the property “followed a standard process” but said it was now clear that “insufficient instruction was given to the supplier to make ensure voice-activated assistive technology was not installed for X”.

In response to the complaint that Mr and Mrs S’s views were ignored, the council said: “a support planning meeting is held with all the people invited to the review of assessment information and consideration given to the most cost effective way to meet the individual’s needs within the situation that they currently live in”, and that Mr and Mrs S were involved in that process.

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5 Responses to Service user distressed after council persisted with plans to use assistive technology

  1. Keith Hall August 23, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    Involved, but ultimately ignored.

    Why is this not the rarity it should be?

  2. A Man Called Horse August 23, 2018 at 10:36 am #

    With the Government withdrawing funding from Councils these attempts to save money will lead to more legal challenges. What are Councils too do in these circumstances? They can only raise revenue through increased service charges and increased Council Tax both very unpopular.
    By withdrawing support grant Councils are slowly being made bankrupt and increasingly only able to provide thread bare service or a core offer services, this is the end game of David Cameron’s big society, hollowed out and inadequate services. The job of Social Workers is becoming impossible under these conditions. Still people keep voting for cuts to public services believing that Councils are inefficient, neatly diverting blame away from the real villains this austerity loving Tory Government.

    • Paul Bennett August 30, 2018 at 11:31 am #

      Well said and very true A Man Called Horse

  3. SB August 23, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

    Another sad example of the needs of the client and family being disregarded to save money by the council. This exercise has cost the council £750 and has only added to the growing resentment from clients, their families and social workers.
    In our team we have regular disputes with the council financial department regarding cost cuttings that are made which only have detrimental outcomes for all. Such reductions are necessary we are told but we have the job of explaining to the client that they will not get the service they need. One relative visited the council department to plead her case, she was seen by an official who quite clearly told her that he “was not interested ” in the wellbeing of the client and that they should be grateful for anything they did receive.
    Person centred care?

  4. Who knows August 27, 2018 at 7:35 am #

    The route of this practice is austerity, but social workers need to remember to stand together as a group of proffessionals. The social worker is accountable for their own professional recommendations, not the council. If he had died at night, the finance director wouldn’t be standing in court, the social worker/ assessor would. The social worker in this case was compliant with the finance dept. proposed changes and didn’t sufficiently consider the impact on this young man. There is pressure to be compliant with changes, but unless social workers stand together on inappropriate proposals, this type of thing will continue. The councils needs to look at different options to reduce spend, but as workers we need to remember that we only apply the proposal where it’s appropriate to do so.