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Friday, 2 September 2011

‘Homecare scandal’ wastes £7 million plus 500,000 un-used care hours over three years at Bristol City Council

A trawl of Bristol City Council’s online paperwork has revealed financial and operational mismanagement has wasted £7 million over 3 yrs and left hundreds of thousands of homecare hours unused.  Unite claims the Authority has consistently failed to use its own workforce to provide homecare services in the City and has chosen to place additional expenditure with private agencies in a cynical effort to break in-house provision. Local support for the retention of Bristol City Council’s own homecare service was strong enough to bring down the Lib Dem administration when they last attempted to privatise it in 2007.  Unite’s Regional Organiser Steve Preddy is outraged: ‘The Lib Dems are in control of the Council again and as the monopoly purchaser of homecare services in the City, the Council can make or break any service provider.  They have attempted to break their very own Homecare Service, which they themselves manage.  In the process they have wasted millions of pounds of public money and left hundreds of service users with no Council carer to turn to.’

Bristol City Council’s has a weekly target of 6,500 hours of care to be provided by its own workers in caring for older people in the City.[1] Latest available data shows the Council used only 4,481 hours a week in 2010/2011, leaving its homecare workers with no service users to provide care to for the remainder of the time.[2]  Unite claims this waste of over 2,000 hours of care every week has failed to make use of £2.9 million worth of annual resources invested in staff and costs.[3]  Over three years this mis-management has eaten up approx £8.7 million in wasted care.  Unite alleges that the Council instead opted to purchase alternative hours of care from private sector agencies to make up the shortfall.  Paperwork dating back to 2009 reveals this practice costs £44,000 a week, a staggering £2.3 million each year.[4]  Steve Preddy explains: “This scandalous waste of resources – hundreds of thousands of unused homecare hours and £7 million of extra cash to buy services in from agencies - is the key explanation for Lib Dem claims that the service is too expensive.  The expense has been entirely manufactured by management incompetence and political negligence. A Homecare workers’ basic wage is £7.11 per hour, that’s a modest wage for the best trained, most reliable and experienced homecare workers in the City.  If the Council met its own commissioning targets, the cost per hour of care would dramatically drop.  Managers and politicians both know full well that the less they use their own workforce, the more expensive their care appears to be.”  

A 2009 analysis by Bristol’s Director of Health and Social Care, Cathy Morgan, debunked the myth that the Council’s massive overspend in the Homecare budget was caused by an increase in demand.  She explained to Councillors that Bristol City Council was not purchasing enough homecare from its own service:  Homecare packages [from Bristol City Council’s own Homecare Service] are not meeting planned levels, which may result in a reliance on commissioning from the independent sector’.[5] Indeed, during a previous 12 month period, Council purchase of homecare hours from the private sector had increased by a massive 35% (4,500 hours per week), which was a ‘much larger increase than had been experienced in the two years previous’ resulting in a ‘significant, unaccounted for demand on the independent sector homecare budget’.[6]  At the same time, Morgan reported a steady fall in the number of older people that the Council had referred to its own Homecare service.[7]  The Director acknowledged the Council’s own Homecare Service had 2340 hours of un-commissioned care time each week,[8] which, if used, would ‘reduce dependence on independent sector homecare provision’.[9]

In 2010, a new Director of Health and Social Care, David Johnstone recommended that contracting and procurement by Bristol City Council could be improved because the size of home care packages purchased from the private sector was too high.[10]  Johnstone noted that more staff and resources were needed to support older people to live at home.  Achieving this would ‘not mean we will be cutting services’.[11]  He explained his intentions as: ‘Firstly, . . . to focus our in-house home care services on people with high levels of need. Secondly, to ensure we are as efficient as possible, and that we get more care for the same amount of money.[12]  Johnstone left expectedly in March 2011.  In April, the Council issued letters to homecare staff and service users stating that the Council’s Homecare Service was to close and service users moved to private providers.  Unite challenged the Council on the grounds that these notices were unlawful and the Council withdrew them.  Steve Preddy explains the current situation: “Bristol City Council is continuing to turn older people in need of Homecare away from its own, directly employed Homecare workers and yet continues with the myth that their service is too expensive to retain.  If the Council truly wants ‘more care for the same money’, as they claim to, they would make a good start by actually using the hours at their disposal within their own workforce.  All Homecare workers changed their contractual hours to accommodate management demands, they have done everything asked of them.  This is an appalling scandal of waste, incompetence and negligence.”

For further information contact: Steve Preddy, Regional Officer, Unite

Mobile: 0776 446 7443, email: Appendix 2 para 1
[2] Based on sample taken for Department of Health 6th Sept 2010.  3541 hours CTC section, 940 hours STAR section.
[3] The service is comprised of two sections Continuing to Care (CTC) provides standard long term homecare support to older people and STAR (Intensive Rehabilitative homecare).  The CTC budget is £6.7m and STAR £2.6m appendix 3
[12] para 4.6

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