The recently published social care white paper People at the Heart of Care, sets out a supposedly ambitious 10-year vision for how the Government will transform support and care in England.
With increasing demand on services and recognition that local authorities are already struggling to meet their statutory duties, these proposals will be meaningless if individuals cannot hold commissioners to account.
The white paper identifies a role for the CQC to review and assess how well local authorities are fulfilling their key adult social care functions. It also sets out plans for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to intervene and address the most serious concerns. However, this form of macro-monitoring will not help to resolve client-level failures and will come too late to help the majority of people who rely on care and support.
There is a clear opportunity to improve complaints procedures so that individuals can get redress in real-time; improving the quality of support they receive, rather than compensating their relatives for an opportunity missed.
This means looking at what works well, such as the work undertaken by the local government and Social Care Ombudsman (independent review, easily accessible, free-of-charge to challenge), and applying this much earlier in the dispute resolution process. Social care should take inspiration from the innovation and digital tools already applied in other sectors, particularly where complaints are high in volume and remedies need to be swift to avoid compounding the problem.
The proposed national website for 'providing information and simple explainers about adult social care reform' could build in the same digital tools used by Do Not Pay, Alibaba and eBay so that individuals can access an immediate appeals process, where the system is user-friendly and disputes are peer-reviewed. Automated systems can help level the playing field so that vulnerable individuals do not become lost in the bureaucracy of larger organisations. Online mediation can help people to communicate how commissioning failures have impacted their quality of life and to design a solution that suits their personal circumstances.
Without an effective route to uphold their rights, the proposed reforms will not improve outcomes for individuals. Informing people of their rights will do nothing to strengthen how care and support is delivered unless we also empower them to enforce hold commissioners to account. Putting people at the heart of care means giving them the tools to ensure the Government delivers on both the letter and the spirit of the Care Act.
We acknowledge that the full spirit of the Care Act is not currently being met... we want to empower people who draw on care and support, their carers and their families.