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Your spotlight on health and social care services
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Are people experiencing problems accessing social care support?

Concerns raised by the public indicate services need better information to ensure timely support to those in need.

Social care has become one of the top issues that people tell their local Healthwatch about.

We hear positive stories from people who are have been given vital help to regain or maintain their independence. However, local Healthwatch have also been told about the difficulty some people experience in accessing support in the first place.

Following concerns raised by the public about people waiting up to a year for a social care assessment; we have been working with Healthwatch in 18 localities  to examine the issue further. 

Why are social care assessments so important?     

We all know the vital difference that social care services make to people with a disability or ill health. And the scale of demand for this help is huge. In 2014/15, councils received over 1.8 million requests for adult social care support from new clients.

However, not everyone knows that before you can access support most people must first have their needs assessed by their local authority.

Under the Care Act councils have a duty to offer this assessment and, although you might not meet the necessary criteria to get support, the sooner it takes place, the better for all concerned.  

I have just come out of Hospital after having a big operation. I am 75 and disabled, live on my own and have no car. I was under the impression that I should receive care for six weeks. Nobody has contacted me or suggested where I could have an assessment.

Whether you are recovering from surgery, living with a long term condition, or need other assistance, people need to know if they are entitled to help or if they have to make their own arrangements.

Long delays are obviously frustrating but can also result in unnecessary time in hospital, impact on an individual’s recovery or reduce someone’s independence.  It is therefore important for services to be able to track how long people are waiting for an assessment.

How long should people have to wait?

Although there is no specific timescale in which the assessment has to be completed, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) deems anything between four to six weeks to be reasonable when investigating complaints about delays.

What have we found so far?

So far 18 local Healthwatch have approached their local councils for information. The network has also spoken to those providing care, and voluntary groups.

  • Patchy data: Our initial findings indicate that in some areas, local authorities may not have the information they need to ensure that everyone is getting a timely assessment.

    Of the local councils who provided information, half were either unable to provide data on waiting times or could only tell us how many people were on their waiting list but not for how long.
  • Mixed experience: The data we do have however shows how mixed people’s experiences of getting an assessment could potentially be.

I learned that it was possible to borrow an NHS adjustable bed. I duly telephoned the adult social care number...It was delivered and installed within 2 or 3 working days by a gentleman who was both skilled and efficient. It would be difficult to beat that for responsiveness.

Six councils told us their average waiting times for a social care assessment. These ranged from 2.75 days to 52 days. The longest reported delay between request for assessment and the assessment happening was 688 days.

It also appears that even once people have had their assessment, there can be a delay as they wait for the support to be put in place.  The average waiting times reported to local Healthwatch by councils ranged between 7.8 days and 54 days.

Concerns were also raised about the falling numbers of assessments that were taking place in some areas. We also heard that once people are receiving care, their needs are sometimes not being reviewed as regularly as they should be.   

What next?

The majority of people have a positive experience of social care services.

However, there are clear signs that getting a social care assessment in the first place is not always a positive experience.  The LGO has said that complaints about adult social care – especially about assessments - are on the rise.

And with increasing pressure on services, caused by factors such as an ageing population and a difficult financial climate, there is a risk that problems for people trying to access adult social services could grow.

In this situation, the ability of services to understand the issues that local people are facing will become more critical than ever.

This is why we will continue to share what the public tell us about this issue.


What is your experience of social care assessments? 

If you've got an experience to share, get in touch with your local Healthwatch. 

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