Community care advice 'ambiguous': Social service chiefs call for clarification

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SOCIAL SERVICES chiefs are seeking an eleventh-hour meeting with the Department of Health to clarify advice on how the needs of elderly, disabled and other vulnerable people should be assessed, and how failure to meet those needs should be recorded, after the community care policy comes into force on Thursday, writes Rosie Waterhouse.

The Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) yesterday said government guidelines were unrealistic and unclear, and called for precise advice. The urgent request followed a report that said social services staff were secretly rationing services they considered too expensive or difficult to provide.

The report, by the non-political Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said guidelines were ambiguous on whether clients should be told about any needs revealed by their assessment that the local authority was unable to satisfy. Guidelines from the Social Services Inspectorate warned directors that if they told clients the services they needed and then were unable to provide them, they could face legal action. Advice suggested they should record 'unmet choice' instead of unmet need.

Peter Smallridge, president of the ADSS, said this ran contrary to the spirit of community care.

In a statement likely to enrage rather than mollify directors, Tim Yeo, parliamentary secretary at the Department of Health, said: 'Assessment is about discovering what a person's essential needs are, not an exercise in drawing up a wish list. Asking social workers to produce a list of services that might be helpful without any thought for resources or priorities would be to ignore reality.'