Wednesday, 13 December 2017

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Every year I’m shocked at just how quickly December comes around and our thoughts turn to mince pies and mulled wine.

This year is no different, it’s been such a busy year with far too much to mention in just one blog.

At this time of year there are so many events and commitments. One important one is finalising the capital budget in preparation for County Council on the December 15.

It could feel slightly strange to be talking about money at this time of year but it’s such an important task. Setting the budget isn’t about pounds and pence but it’s about making sure the services we deliver offer the very best value for money for those living and working in the county. In these tough financial times balancing the budget requires us to think differently, it pushes us to test ourselves and really question what we are here to do and what we should be providing for our residents.

One of those vital services we offer is the Fire and Rescue Service. Last Thursday we held our annual West Sussex Fire and Rescue carol service at Chichester Cathedral. This carol service is for fire and rescue staff and relatives together with many other supporters and friends. It has very much of a family feel to it and always gets me in the Christmas spirit.

This December we also held our Exceptional People in Care awards ceremony. This is a wonderful heart-warming event where we celebrate the achievements of our looked after children and what they have achieved. There are around 600 children in care at any one time. Some of these children have gone through some very difficult and traumatic times. They have shown great resilience and bravery and it was so nice to see them joining in and celebrating theirs and other achievements. At West Sussex County Council we want to give children the best start in life.

For some in order to do that they need more of our protection and support than others. Our foster carers, social care staff and everyone else there to support young children play such an important role in helping these children providing a stable supportive environment where they can grow and thrive.

It is events like these that remind me why, as a County Council, we need to keep evolving and changing. We need to make sure we continue to work with our communities as a partnership, building and developing our county into one that meets the needs of residents and then exceeds them, that is ambitious for our residents and the place we live in.

Christmas is a time for reflection and I will be reflecting on our county, on how lucky we are to live here and what we can do together to continue to make West Sussex a wonderful place.

Happy Christmas to you all


Friday, 10 November 2017

It's time to talk about care

Over the last few weeks there has been considerable reporting on the police investigation into the local care home chain, Sussex Health Care.

With the police investigation ongoing I cannot talk in detail about this in order not to compromise that investigation in anyway – and that is crucial.

However in this blog I just want to share with you some nagging thoughts I have had as this investigation has developed and what I think we can all do about it.

Some of you may well recall a serious case review which took place into the collapse of the care home Orchid View four years ago. There was a lot of learning from what happened there and there were actions for the County Council which we took extremely seriously and are in place today.

After the Orchid View investigation I held several meetings with the relatives of those who had been involved. I have learned so much from them and very much value my relationship with them. We meet annually, indeed we met last month and yes they did raise the investigation into Sussex Health Care.

Words fail to express my dismay that such an investigation is necessary in West Sussex but sadly it is not just in West Sussex but across the country that such things continue to arise.

We don’t know what has happened at Sussex Health Care, the various investigations will tell us that.

However, over the last three or four years there have been various reports of some shockingly poor standards in care in homes across the UK. They keep happening because something is just not right at present and that’s my nagging thought – why is this the case and what can we do?

Many will say all that is needed is cameras in every room but that is horribly invasive for the resident and I question the need to check everyone. What we should be tackling is the need to improve standards in the first place and if good training standards and strong management practices are in place there would be no need for surveillance.

Now let’s be clear - there are some excellent homes across the UK and also, I’m pleased to say, here in West Sussex. In fact we have some of the best CQC rated homes that are providing high quality care to the residents - treating them with respect and dignity. A holding of a hand, a smile and five minutes chat can be so comforting to a resident and is often the very best medicine – something none of us should forget.

In many of the county’s homes we have excellent staff and we, as a county council, provide help and support to care homes to raise standards and praise success.

But we need to do much more which is why I believe we need a campaign to change the way the system works. It would be a campaign to address the failures we do hear about. We, as a council, have a safeguarding responsibility to work with others – private and public, individuals and agencies, to deal with those failures. The government is currently working on its Adult Social Care Green Paper so this is perfect timing. For me and so many it is time to call time on poor care for our most vulnerable people.

We need to focus on two things – to promote and value the caring profession and to strengthen the hand of those who can intervene when things go wrong.

Most of our homes can rely on wonderful care workers, some of whom I have been fortunate to meet and the dedication and compassion they display is so heart-warming. So I feel saddened when I hear ‘well I am only a care worker’ because there is no only about it. Care workers have an invaluable role to play in helping our elderly and vulnerable live their lives feeling cared for and cared about. They build friendships with the carers which is right. However without a recognised training pathway which is nationally recognised we will not move away from this self-deprecating and demotivating view of their role.

So I think there should be a training pathway for carers, including apprenticeships available for our school leavers and those who want to be a carer, but there should be a progression for those who want to move into nursing or management by attaining additional qualifications. Currently training across the country is fragmented. Let us give carers the opportunity to value their work, gain the skills they need in a structured way and one that the whole of society can see and support.

We always need to be realistic poor care may still happen and so it is vital to get rid of the confusion of roles for the authorities that carry responsibility for doing something about that. We have the CQC to regulate homes, the council’s social services to safeguard individuals, and the police to step in when serious problems are found. But these agencies need a clearer set of powers to act quickly and in ways the public – residents and families, can all understand. I really want the government’s green paper to provide us with the means to change all of that. It won’t cost more and it won’t mean more regulation and bureaucracy – but it will mean that everyone will know who is accountable to do what when all is not as it should be – that has to be right for the relatives.  

For those homes that are models of good practice we should also have better ways for praising and promoting their success – just like those hygiene ratings we can all see when we go out to eat. That way we will get away from the secrecy and confusion about the quality of care for which we should all be accountable.

So there is a real dialogue needed to be had about care homes – and I am more than happy to start it here.

Let’s celebrate those who are doing a really good job, learn and work with them to eradicate once and for all the continuing poor unacceptable practices that some of our vulnerable elderly have to live with day in day out.
Best wishes,