Social Care – Observations from the new kid on the block

By Joanne Harding

sunrise

Well, I guess the title of my blog isn’t strictly true. I have been around health and social care for the last 20 years – working in drug, alcohol and mental health services. The past four years as a councillor I have chaired a Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and been the Shadow Executive for Adult Social Care.

However in May this year I was appointed as the Executive for adult care as a new administration took charge of Trafford Council. I was excited and enthused about the challenge ahead. The thought of being in a position to really shape and change policy, collaborate and be visionary was something that filled me with a real sense of purpose. I was keen to get going….

So, fast-forward 3 months and what are my observations about social care and what elected members should focus on?

In these three months I have seen that we have some amazing, incredible people working in the local sector. Social care, including the role of families and carers, needs to be celebrated as an asset in this country, and the care economy recognised as a core economy. We have some visionaries, some real “let’s make it happen people“, dedicated staff that are going all out to make lives better. I am really enjoying meeting and working with these people across Trafford and beyond.

But we need to change some things to free these people up to create the best social care future possible.

My first observation is that structures seem so rigid and inflexible, driving a very real culture of firefighting – I got an immediate sense of “this is just how we do it here“ “the market dictates”. I don’t say this to be critical, I know against a backdrop of austerity measures and no real national solutions offered to the social care funding crisis that staff, commissioners and policy makers are going above and beyond.

The financial aspect of care dictates so much. It is easy to feel like we are being held over a barrel by providers, despite some excellent organisations in the independent sector. In more affluent areas with large volumes of self-funders it is even harder to influence the market and attract staff into care roles. Can we be bolder with private providers and start driving up the quality, ensure that contracts are explicit about what we want as commissioners of services and critically that this represents what people using care and support and communities want? Just because a provider charges top rates does not necessarily equate to top quality or the best approach to support. I do believe ethical commissioning offers the way forward to achieve desired shifts with providers and people. A recent excellent article by Bob Hudson outlines this vision. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/20/ethics-new-approach-outsourcing-social-care

It’s also very easy to focus purely on services for older people. It is right that much attention is focussed on this area, however social care is so much more than this. I don’t want to neglect disabled people, learning disabilities, early interventions, mental health and transitions for young people.

There is still huge amounts of working in silos. I believe that Greater Manchester devolution is an opportunity to really get the “joined up working “right and I know there are some excellent examples of cross border working, but we need more. How do we really collaborate on out of area placements? Are we across exploring creating new organisations like mutuals and cooperatives? How do we actually communicate with each other? I would really welcome a gathering of elected representatives as part of the NCASC/#socialcarefuture events in November to focus on some ideas for the future and share practical examples.

So, based on these initial reflections I set myself 3 early objectives, as I know in a portfolio so huge a clear focus and sense of direction is needed

  • Driving up quality in the care sector across Trafford (if it isn’t good enough for my mum or your mum then why should it be good enough for anybody else?).
  • Bringing communities together to tackle social isolation and grow positive links and connections (across all age groups)
  • A truly dementia-friendly Trafford

So – to conclude this first blog – I’m still in the early stages of my journey and I’ll share more as things progress in the coming months. If you have thoughts, ideas and examples – please do let me know.

Councillor Joanne Harding. Executive Member Adult Social Care – Trafford Council (Blog written in a personal capacity)

@Joanne13Harding

 

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