Fears raised over Highland care shake-up

UNION leaders and health professionals are voicing serious concerns over plans to shake up care services for children and the elderly.

Under the proposals, Highland Council will take sole responsibility for children’s services while NHS Highland will look after adult community care services.

The move, unanimously approved in principle by councillors and health officials yesterday, is intended to save duplication and close gaps in elderly and children services now provided by both organisations.

Under the new model, announced last week, around 250 health workers and £10 million of NHS cash will transfer to the local authority whilst around 1400 council workers and £90 million of cash will move to the NHS.

But, Ray Stewart, NHS union representative and staff side convener, said employees had huge concerns about the proposals.

“There has been no involvement with staff on the ground until now and that is not a good starting point,” he told a joint meeting of the council and NHS board.

“You need to get on the ground and start talking to staff.”

Maenwhile, a health professional claims the knock-on effect could result in reduced services and a poorer quality of care for vulnerable youngsters.

The worker, who asked not to be named, believes there is a real risk health workers transferred to the local authority will walk away from their jobs.

“Transfer will have huge implications for terms and conditions,” said the source, who explained there were already major problems in recruiting and retaining qualified staff in the Highlands.

“I imagine there will be a wave of resignations if it goes ahead.”

The insider believes children will suffer as a result because there would be fewer staff to deliver services.

“Staff were called to a meeting on 6th December and told about this paper coming out three days later.

“There was no level of consultation whatsoever. People are absolutely furious.”

The worker strongly believes the move is a cost-saving measure, although this is disputed by officials.

It is estimated around 70 per cent of youngsters in the children’s service system need help from health professionals but do not require any intervention from social workers.

It is feared under the transition to the council there will be a shift in emphasis with those requiring social work help being made a priority.

Senior health and council officials acknowledged there would be anxiety among workers but insisted that should not stand in the way of the proposals.

“We have to engage with all staff,” said board chairman Garry Coutts.

“The sort of problems I envisage with staff are ones we can resolve if we enter into it in the proper way.

“We should not let the concerns and enormity get in the way of the prize we could win for elderly adults.”

He denied the region was failing to learn from mistakes made in Glasgow, where a similar change was tried but failed.

Staff are expected to be invited to a joint meeting in the new year when officials from north-east Lincolnshire will outline experience of a similar model.

Officers will now work on drawing up more detailed proposals.