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Audit hits at council that failed to care

Ministers have summoned leaders from a London borough after a highly critical report said it was failing to provide care for its most vulnerable people. Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, reports on 'continuing problems' for Barking and Dagenham Council.

Inconsistent assessment of needs, poorly planned care and limited services have led to a "very worrying" situation in Barking and Dagenham, where the needs of vulnerable people are not being met.

One in four people rate the services as poor - twice as many as any other social services department that has been reviewed so far by the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate.

Unfair and inconsistent assessments have led to cases such as that of the non-English speaking man who spent 12 years in a residential home where no one spoke his language or the severely disabled woman who was not assessed for more than two years.

The situation has been blamed on an out-of-date assessment system and poorly targeted resources in the east London borough. Barking and Dagenham is among the most deprived 5 per cent of authorities in England and spends pounds 36.9m on social services - 2 per cent of the council's overall budget.

It is not the first time the borough has come under fire. In 1993, health inspectors attempted to sort out Barking and Dagenham because it was having difficulties implementing the new community care legislation. "This report reflects continuing problems in the borough," said Sir Herbert Laming, chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate.

"Barking and Dagenham council has failed to tackle fundamental management questions and therefore offers poor social services to the vulnerable people who depend on them."

One in four people who requested help from the council said that they had to wait two weeks or more before someone contacted them - this compared to only 14 per cent in other social service reviews. Elderly people were particularly badly served, and five out of the authority's eight old people's homes did not meet the registration requirements of other providers.

"Overall, while many people in Barking and Dagenham receive services, they are so thinly spread that the quality is poor," said Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission. "The authority tries to provide services for all, but it is simply not geared to deliver them."

The report recommended that the council must improve the way it decides priorities and manages resources by targeting funds better. Partnerships should be extended with voluntary organisations and management problems must be addressed.

Barking and Dagenham Council said it accepted the recommendations of the report and a full action plan would be developed within the next three months. This is the 11th review of its kind and is part of a rolling programme of reviews of social services departments in England and Wales.

Shortfalls of the system

1 An elderly Indian man who speaks no English was placed in a residential home for 12 years where no one spoke his language.

1 It took two and a half years for a middle-aged severely disabled woman to be fully assessed.

1 An elderly man needing placement in a Jewish home had to wait four months in a hospital bed for placement because the budget for non-borough homes is so restricted although beds were available.

1 A young person with a learning disability living with parents is putting the mother under a great deal of stress. However, they have been told that the critical psychological support to deal with the behaviour is not available for six months.

1 Mr B who suffers from multiple sclerosis will ''sit in agony for hours rather than call anyone'' because he was given no information about a carer's group, did not know who to contact about their home care, and considered it too risky to complain.