Social Care Reform – Essential Change is needed to Protect Service Users
BY Eddie Jones, Head of Clinical Negligence, JMW
I receive many enquiries from clients who are concerned with the social care they or a family member receive. Many of these enquiries fail to fulfil the criteria of medical negligence as there is an absence of an injury sustained, but they do highlight how distressing it must be for service users and their families and carers when the support required is denied or withdrawn.
The proposed changes to social care law as set out by the Law Commission this week, should be welcomed. In the future it should be clearer to service users, carers and solicitors what social care provision people are entitled to, untangling the ‘mess’ current ad-hoc legislation creates.
Currently, the service user’s spouse or family is often left to bear the burden of care or to provide private care which is extremely expensive.
The Law Commission is trying to do something about it
The Law Commission published ‘Adult Social Care’ on 11 May which has revealed major inefficiencies in the current system.
The current system, developed over the last 60 years from the National Assistance Act 1948, contains outdated references to “dumb and crippled persons” who were to be cared for on a ‘welfare state’ basis. The modern practice of independent living and individual choice has left this system defunct.
The Law Commission has made recommendations for a ‘single, clear, modern statute and code of practice that would pave the way for a coherent social care system’. The laws would help to protect individuals by stipulating “clear and individually enforceable rights” relating to eligibility and provision of services that could be taken through the courts if violated.
Let’s hope the recommendations are taken up
The reforms are based on the assumption that the service user is the best judge of their own well-being and whilst this principle already underpins social care practice making this law would allow for a firmer legal footing for individuals to dispute the standard of care they receive.
The reforms would also help to protect ‘at risk’ adults as councils will now have a legal duty to investigate suspected instances of adult abuse when an adult is at ‘risk of harm’ and NHS trusts and police will be required to appoint representatives to adult safeguarding boards.
All in all the reforms set out in this proposal seem to help protect service users from abuse and neglect by providing a clear legal framework. And that (ignoring the slight potential hurdles of time, resources, implementing change etc!) can only be a good thing! I hope the government responds positively to the recommendations and recognises that these changes are clearly overdue.
The challenge ahead
The next challenge these proposed changes will face is the issue of funding. How does the government pay for improved social care, especially if a revised model of care may prove to be more expensive in this age of austerity?
The Commission on Funding of Care and Support, an independent body responsible for the review of the funding system for care and support in England, has been looking at a range of solutions and is due to release its recommendations in July 2011.
Care doesn’t come cheap but in my eyes it is one of the cornerstones to a developed society and one where cuts could severely reduce citizen’s quality of life.
You just can’t cut corners when it comes to care and wellbeing.