Collaboration, comradery and communication at the 2022 National Children and Adult Services Conference
For the first time in three years, delegates met in person at the 2022 National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC) in Manchester to hear from a wide range of speakers across children and adult services. Natalie Kenneison, Chief Operating Officer at Imosphere, reflects on the key conference highlights.
Natalie Kenneison and Dennis Hollingworth at NCASC 2022
Adult Social Care
The Social Care Reforms and their implementation deadlines were expectedly a common talking point - within the scheduled sessions and around the coffee stands. Whilst everyone truly recognises that social care reform is needed, the uncertainty about when or even if the scheduled reforms would take place is placing local authorities in a difficult position.
The uncertainty brings questions; should LAs continue planning for reforms which may not even go ahead, or should they focus on immediate issues facing citizens? With no clear right or wrong answer, the only consensus was that more time to learn from Trailblazers would be useful.
It was highlighted that whilst the social care reforms are well overdue, there are other very pressing issues for the sector; elevated levels of vacancies remain unfilled or filled by expensive agency staff (dwindling the budgets further), increasingly long waiting lists for assessments and difficulty of hospital discharges are placing more pressure on the NHS.
Sarah McClinton, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) opened the conference with a speech that highlighted: “CQC recently set out that the workforce gap across health and care is 300,000 people. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Newcastle. Over half of these vacancies are in social care. In fact, for the first time ever – last year we saw a shrinking number of care workers.”
Solidarity between LAs
With so much uncertainty in the sector, the comradery experienced at NCAS this year was higher than ever! Local authorities want to support each other, to share information so others do not have to reinvent the wheel. The trailblazer session on Thursday really highlighted this as the trailblazers for social care reforms volunteered to share their modelling information, so others could understand the potential impact.
The Trailblazers were keen to point out that they see a big part of their role as being able to provide the evidence about the level of funding needed to implement the reforms. It was a shared viewpoint that money proposed by central government will not be enough to implement the fair cost of care.
Fair cost of care was another recurring theme across the different talks for adult social care, with everybody recognising the need to agree what ‘fair’ means to start with and how aspirational we want to be and can be. Inflation changes from when the reforms were proposed in September 2021 is a rise of over 6% - up from 2.8% to now nearly 9% - and this needs to be considered with the package of funding from central government, and funding needs to be reviewed regularly. An important reminder that if social care fails, it will be the NHS that picks this up, another sector already under significant pressure.
Alongside the Social Care Reforms, a lot of questions were being asked about the new assurance inspections for adult social care and how this can happen alongside the uncertainty of the social care reforms, with suggestions that each local authority will need a dedicated person to manage this work due to the amount of coordination required. There is concern that the assurance inspections may only deem to tell local authorities what they already know, but do not have the funding to correct in the way the way they would want to. However, there is hope that more best practice will be shared and highlighted across the sector through this assurance, and it will inform central government where shared problems lie in the hope that solution can be found and policy updated.
As an exhibitor it was fantastic to see the range of solutions being offered by the private, public and charity sectors, with some looking to the future to provide technology solutions to some of the biggest challenges like recruitment issues and using robotics to support those needing care at home. It was also refreshing to see public sector solution providers willing to collaborate to meet sector needs.
Imosphere had many positive conversations with organisations seeking opportunities to work with us and our leading self-assessment tool. We are all specialists in our own areas and the more joining up we can do on behalf of local authorities, the better! Social care does not live in a vacuum and local authorities deserve to have multiple options for how they wish do things.
Translating the information
Communication about the Social Care Reforms was another key aspect regularly being discussed. Communication about social care is limited, people often do not know what they need or who they need it from, and public communication is key, but often hard to achieve.
Local authorities feel it is up to them to disseminate the information around the social care reforms and translate the government guidance into something citizens would understand. And if the system is not hard enough to understand already, it will get even more complicated if the social care reforms go ahead.
A lot of the communication should be consistent across the country, so again the trailblazers are working together to establish comms that could have multiple uses. This collaborative approach will go a long way to making sure we are putting the sparse resources of local authorities to effective use.
I spoke to many Directors of Education about the SEND Green Paper consultation – everyone is awaiting the results and communication from the DfE about when we will see the results and what is being planned. We are hoping to see something by Christmas, but it is clear many in the sector are fed up with waiting and want to make sure they are delivering results for all their pupils as soon as possible. Many in the sector are now acting on decisions they have had on pause while hoping for further guidance from the results of the consultation.
Overall, the sector is looking for answers. Answers from Government and providers. The sector needs a clearer understanding of what they should be prioritising, what timescales they are working to and how technology and the private sector can help them achieve what they need to.
Social care can support the economy – and even help to grow the economy – with the proper investment, data and understanding. We hope that the Autumn budget on 17th November brings some of the answers the sector is so desperately needing!