Social Workers ‘Lose 200 In System’

Birmingham City Council has admitted it has no idea of the whereabouts or the welfare of about 200 adults with severe learning disabilities in residential care. The local authority disclosed details of an astonishing mix-up with Primary Care Trusts, which resulted in the council losing contact with highly vulnerable people and failing to fulfil its responsibility to monitor their wellbeing. A social care scrutiny inquiry found the “missing” 200 had not been properly assessed by social workers, were not having their care arrangements properly managed and could be at risk of physical or sexual abuse.

The seeds of the crisis, described as “intolerable and unacceptable” by a scrutiny committee chairman, were sewn more than a decade ago when responsibility for looking after people with learning difficulties was transferred nationally from the NHS to local authorities.

In Birmingham, unusually, the PCTs continued to commission and provide care while the council social services department was given the task of inspecting and managing the welfare of people in residential homes.

A failure of communication between the PCTs and social services meant that the council failed to carry out regular checks and manage the care of those it was responsible for.

Lesley Heal, the council’s director of learning and disability services, told the social care scrutiny committee she could not be sure that everyone in Birmingham with learning disabilities was safe. Some of the homes used by the South Birmingham Primary Care Trust were unregistered and the council had no idea where they were located.

There was no reason to believe that abuse was taking place, but until assessments could be carried out the council could not be sure.

Ms Heal added: “A number of service users are not known to the local authority and haven’t been assessed because we don’t know who these people are. If there was close partnership working between ourselves and the PCTs and if all the homes were registered, we would have known.”

Ms Heal said the council had reached an agreement with the PCTs, who would provide a list setting out the whereabouts of the missing 200. However, she has not yet received the list.

In the meantime, social workers are visiting every home run by the South Birmingham PCT to carry out checks on residents.

The mix-up has close parallels with a breakdown in working relationships between councils and NHS trusts in Cornwall which was exposed in a Government report earlier this year. An inquiry found evidence of institutional abuse at residential homes across Cornwall and warned of serious concerns about treatment of people with learning difficulties across the country.

Scrutiny committee chairman Len Clark said he was keen to reassure the public that the council was taking urgent action to resolve the problem while South Birmingham PCT declined to comment.