Care fears over plans to axe social worker jobs

Front line care for some of Norfolk’s most vulnerable adults will be hit if plans to cut 28 social worker posts go ahead – it was claimed last night.

Norfolk County Council’s adult social services department is finalising an overhaul which it will says will create a faster more efficient service by speeding up assessments – while saving £1.2m.

County Hall has already reduced the proposed cuts from 38 last year, but union leaders fear despite the reduction the vulnerable could suffer.

Bosses insisted that no redundancies were planned and the cuts would be managed through ‘natural wastage’ – by not replacing people when they leave.

But Alison Birmingham, senior Unison steward for adult social services, said the changes would hamper the service.

“The loss of nearly 30 front line social workers will almost certainly have an impact – you could say that it will be a worse service,” she said. “People wait long enough as it is.”

Meanwhile some front line social workers fear jobs are going to help pay for a Care First computer system – designed to cut red tape, but which has been hit with technical problems.

One social worker, who did not want to be named, said there was frustration at the amount of time spent sat in front of computers instead of carrying out face to face visits, and the last seven days has seen the system hit by a series of glitches particularly in West Norfolk.

“You can’t get to see anybody because you are typing into a computer all the time,” he said. “Before it was introduced I would do about 20 visits a week, but now if you can get to see one person a day you are lucky.

“I am certain there is going to be something untoward happens with one poor person who just falls by the wayside.”

Managers have been asked for their ideas about the changes, but the social worker, claimed a suggestion to raise fees and chargers for service users was rejected because it would be politically unpalatable to councillors in an election year.

Social services has been increasingly under the spotlight after the recent fiasco over the start of a new home care contract, which saw dozens of people left home alone unfed and unwashed.

Changes are part of a massive transformation process and include a review of day centre services, which is expected to be completed this year, while an overhaul of the Learning Difficulties service is also underway.

And proposals to overhaul the meals on wheels service have also sparked concern about its future – though the council insists no decisions have been taken and the goal is to provide a universal service.

But Harold Bodmer, director of adult social services, said the aim of the job changes was to give people a faster more efficient service.

“Our primary goal is not to save money, but to drive further improvements to the service people receive from us,” he said. “To do this we need to change our current staff mix and move more people to the ‘front door’ of our service to help us deal quicker and more efficiently with simpler enquiries, assessments and care needs.

“This will free-up specialist practitioners to concentrate their efforts on working with people who have more complex needs.

“However, sitting back and doing nothing is not an option,” he added. “The Government has indicated that all social services departments across the UK must modernise the way they work to ensure the highest standard of care possible is provided.”

He added: “There have been times when Care First has gone down, and this has understandably caused staff frustration and we are working hard to improve this situation. We are committed to accurately recording ‘real time’ information, which helps us to deal more efficiently with emergencies and urgent care needs, but we do not want staff spending unnecessary time on a computer.

But the changes, which are part of a drive towards more personalised services, found support from older people’s advocates in the voluntary sector.

Hilary MacDonald, chief executive of Age Concern Norfolk said: “We support the principle behind the transformation agenda because it should very much on the individual. But we would want to monitor the situation very carefully and if we picked up it raised issues with older people, we would raise that.”