Shake-up urged for county home-care services after visits problems

PUBLISHED: 16:56 30 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:37 06 May 2010

Labour County Councillor Bob Mays led group which wants stronger financial penalties for poor service

Labour County Councillor Bob Mays led group which wants stronger financial penalties for poor service

IMPROVEMENTS intended to prevent a repeat of the serious failings earlier this year with the transfer of home care services are being recommended to Herts County Council (HCC). These could include stronger financial penalties for failure to provide a sat

IMPROVEMENTS intended to prevent a repeat of the serious failings earlier this year with the transfer of home care services are being recommended to Herts County Council (HCC).

These could include stronger financial penalties for failure to provide a satisfactory service.

A cross-party topic group was set up by HCC after widespread complaints about the delivery of home care by new providers which began in April.

One of the companies with which problems arose was Supporta Care, which took over from three previous care providers covering the St Albans district.

Many frail, elderly and vulnerable people were left without vital care over the weekends and HCC suspended the contract in May. It was not reinstated until August.

The topic group's aim was to scrutinise the contract procurement process, decide whether HCC's Adult Care Services did all it could to ensure a smooth transfer and whether it had taken appropriate measures since the problems have arisen.

Among other issues, it had concerns about the handovers from one company to another and felt that the impact of possible reluctance by outgoing providers to follow the spirit of regulations should be considered more fully.

But no breaches in TUPE - the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) -regulations in the transferring of staff were found.

Chairman of the topic group, Labour Councillor Bob Mays, said: "Some of the private companies employed by the county council have clearly failed to provide home care services to the council's standards. Complaints in the worst areas rose from less than 20 per month to over 270. The group agreed that we need stronger financial penalties for service failure and greater member involvement. "

Vice chairman, Conservative Cllr Teresa Heritage, said: "The group concluded that the county council undertook its duties to users and carers seriously and beyond the legal contract requirements. However, the handovers from one company to another were a particular cause for concern. Many of our suggestions aim to make this transition smoother to avoid similar problems in the future."

And fellow vice chairman, Liberal Democrat Cllr Nick Hollinghurst, added: "It is important that our suggested changes for future home care and other procurement processes are seriously considered. Claims made by bidders for these contracts must be tested in greater depth in the future."

Other areas in which the group believes the process could be enhanced include the provision of a "data handover day" where information between providers could be exchanged in the presence of council staff, offering advice to users and carers involved in the process via an expert panel, and greater involvement of users, carers and council members.

The final report and recommendations have been passed on to the relevant chief officer and executive member with a response required within two months.

Future monitoring may be taken by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

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