Shock Norfolk social care shake-up after serious concerns raised

Serious concerns over the social care provided to adults with mental health issues has led to Norfolk County Council taking action

Serious concerns that social care for adults with mental health issues in Norfolk is not good enough has led to the county council taking responsibility for the service away from the mental health trust.

Norfolk County Council’s cabinet agreed to the move at a meeting today, which will see just over a hundred staff who had been transferred to the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust five years ago go back to being managed from County Hall.

Issues around the service were aired at a meeting of the council’s community services overview and scrutiny panel in November.

Councillors at that meeting heard how, at one point, council bosses could not be confident the authority was fully meeting its legal obligations around care.

Bosses admitted then that the social care service for adults with mental health issues in Norfolk was not good enough, as they pledged to make improvements.

But those improvements have not happened, and County Hall bosses decided that, despite the efforts, the council should take back direct management of the service.

Muddles and delays over personal budgets, confusion over care assessments and mix-ups over accommodation were among a string of problems with the agreement, which was signed in 2008.

A report into the issues was commissioned in October last year and published in the spring, before the contract, which saw just over a hundred social care staff transfer from the county council to the health trust, was extended for a year with a plan for improvements.

Officers said in that report: “The current arrangement is not providing the necessary outcomes required to ensure a modernised mental health care system is provided within Norfolk.”

Talks between the council and the trust about the way forward were ongoing and Harold Bodmer, the council’s director of community services, said at the time: “Both of us agree there is a need for the model to change, both of us know what areas need to be addressed and above all both of us agree that working together will be the best way to change them.”

At that meeting Wyndham Northam, Conservative county councillor for Mundesley division, had called for the council to take back the staff it had transferred and run the service itself.

Mr Northam had said: “I think we should call it a day and go back to square one.”

That is what the cabinet has agreed to do today, although the contract will be extended until the end of September this year, to allow a six month transition before the service and staff return to the county council.

A new model for social care in mental health will be introduced, in line with arrangements for social care in community and acute trusts, creating a specialist social care service working in partnership with the health services.

Sue Whitaker, cabinet member for adult social services at Norfolk County Council, said: “Adult social care has changed enormously in the last few years, with the introduction of personal budgets, better collaboration with health and a much greater emphasis on promoting individual choice and independence.

“We need to revise and strengthen the way we provide social care for people with mental health needs and we feel the best way to achieve this is to manage the service directly. We’re not the only council to take a decision like this in this context, so this isn’t simply a Norfolk issue.

“Both the council and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust are committed to making this transition happen as smoothly as possible, for staff and particularly people who use the service.

“Working collaboratively with the trust will absolutely remain a priority as it’s vital that people with mental health needs get a coordinated service.”

Andrew Hopkins, acting chief executive at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The council and the trust have been working to review the current arrangements and whilst there are positive things about the current arrangements, both parties recognise that the service has not been working as well as we would want.

“Our review has shown we have made improvements but, as the statutory requirements have increased considerably since we started delivering social care for the county council four years ago, we accept that changes need to be made.

“Both the trust and council are committed to providing an integrated service located in the same place. Therefore we believe that the changes decided today will lead to an improvement in the way that social care is delivered and ensure service users receive their personal budgets more quickly than under the current arrangements.”

Around 100 mental health social work staff are expected to transfer to the employment of the council by September as a result of today’s agreement.

They will continue to be co-located with health colleagues after the transfer as the priority on better integration between health and social care services remains.