Home Care Shake-Up Defended

Social services chiefs in Norfolk last night insisted that home care support for thousands of elderly people is not being run down ahead of controversial privatisation plans. Currently around 6,000 people a week receive a visit from a carer offering a range of help and support from feeding, bathing, dressing and lifting.

But with demand set to increase by 12pc by 2012, and by 45pc a decade later, County Hall is looking at ways of maintaining the same levels of service while relieving the pressure on the public purse.

Under the favoured option being considered by the authority, the 50-50 split would change to 20pc of support hours provided in-house and 80pc of hours by the private sector.

But the move, which will be rubber-stamped by the ruling cabinet on April 2, has sparked anger among unions, particularly plans to save £4.55m in staff costs by avoiding transfer rules known as ‘TUPE’ which would honour carers’ current pay and conditions.

And last night Labour opposition leader Irene Macdonald said more time was needed to look at the full implications of the decision amid criticisms that the proposals make no allowances for inflation, while she was concerned existing provision was being allowed to wither on the vine. She said the cabinet should consider an alternative not-for-profit social enterprise model to provide the service instead of privatisation.

The council employs around 900 staff, or 780 full-time equivalent carers, while spending £33m a year on home support. A report discussed behind closed doors by councillors last week shows that council-run home care costs £20.50 to provide compared to £12.60 in the private sector.

With the numbers of elderly set to rise, the council is keen to shift the focus of its services to intensive support for the first 12 weeks after a new referral, before passing on continuing care to the private sector.

Ms Macdonald, said: “Our big concern is that this is privatisation by stealth. This will lead to a poorer quality service and worse conditions for the caring staff.” And she said the council had failed to provide detailed information about the implications of the changes and called for a working group to look at the plans in more detail.

“The problem with this option is that it will see a seeping away of the staff level and users will wonder what on earth is happening,” she added. “This is a ‘lose-lose’ option which shouldn’t be pursued. It’s just the worst of all worlds, which will see a gradual decline and running down of the service. There’s been no consultation and it’s all been discussed in secret.”

Chris Mowle, cabinet member for adult social care, said the idea was to manage the process in the best way possible to protect existing staff and ensure older people receive high quality care. Changes will take place over several years, largely through natural wastage.

“We are not winding it down at all,” he said. “There are some pockets in the county where you can’t get the carers. It isn’t going to be rushed through.” And he said he was interested in looking at the social enterprise model. “It will be interesting to have a look at,” he added. “I’ve asked officers to investigate to see if it’s a runner or not.”