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By Mark Crail ...
By Mark Crail

Local councils are facing major problems in modernising social services because of 'organisational turbulence' in the health service, the chief inspector of social services warns today.

Denise Platt says in her annual report that while many councils are now working constructively with their local NHS, 'progress is slow in many areas of service delivery'.

She says many councils report that the 'continuing changes in other organisations, particularly the NHS, have hampered the development of stable partnerships and thus the use of the Health Act flexibilities'.

And she goes on: 'A step change is necessary if service users are to experience tangible changes in service choice and quality overall.'

Despite these and other problems, however, ministers are planning to scrap the legal requirement on councils to produce community care plans, arguing that 'in many areas this requirement may no longer serve a useful purpose'.

A consultation document issued today by the department of health suggests the plans have been superseded by Health Improvement Programmes and Joint Investment Plans.

In her report, Ms Platt says that councils have continually told government that the different planning requirements of different agencies and the complex and changing nature of the requirements undermine attempts at 'joined-up planning'.

Councils have pressed for a more coherent and simplified approach to planning, not just for social care services but across the full planning spectrum and on a corporate basis, she says.

'The number of different plans councils are called upon to produce is now getting in the way of coherent service delivery rather than improving it.'

Ms Platt says that recent DoH guidance on joint planning should help.

She goes on: 'The inability to co-ordinate the service and financial framework process in the NHS with councils' budget- making processes severely impairs joint planning and joint investment in pooled budgets.

'Consideration is being given in the department of health to bringing these cycles together.'

Ms Platt also warns that problems also exist in the ability of the NHS to share information with social services in order to improve service effectiveness and in a way that will help social services to plan.

Information held by health authority area cannot be disaggregated for many councils, she says.

'For example, in our performance monitoring we asked about information on delayed discharge passed on by health authorities to councils, to get an idea of how routinely information is shared to facilitate effective joint work.

'Only 40 per cent of councils confirmed that information in relation to residents affected within council areas was made available on a routine basis.

'In 26 per cent of councils, the NHS was unable to supply full information about delayed discharges within council areas.

'Similarly, we asked about the routine exchange of information on levels of hospital emergency admission within council areas.

'The results suggest even less ability in the NHS to provide this information routinely, with only 26 per cent providing information on a routine basis and therefore in a way that allows councils to understand the position in relation to their own responsibilities.

'In 22 per cent of councils the NHS was unable to supply full information within council areas.

'Effective planning cannot be expected where such basic information is not supplied.'

Relevant links

Modern Social Services: a commitment to deliver

Community Care Plans: a consultation

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