Tories admit Northamptonshire's elderly and vulnerable care service is 'on the edge' - but say it is 'too soon' for a review

With more than 2,000 people still waiting to be assessed in Northamptonshire, there are real fears social services are on the edge.
With more than 2,000 people still waiting to be assessed in Northamptonshire, there are real fears social services are on the edge.

Calls for a major review into Northamptonshire's social services were voted down by councillors despite warnings that the stretched services were at breaking point.

Last month the director of adult care at One Angel Square admitted some 2,000 vulnerable people were still waiting to be assessed by social workers in the county.

The backlog, Anna Earnshaw said, was a result of chronic underfunding and unrealistic targets.

But yesterday, a joint opposition call to enact a review of adult care in the county was turned down by the Conservatives.

The controlling party said that, with watchdog inspectors set to give their verdict on care services next month, any review now would not be able to take their conclusions into account.

Proposing the motion, Councillor Eileen Hales (Lab, Windmill) said: "I cannot ever remember a time when the backlog of reviews was this high.

"Some of our team have up to 250 cases to handle each. That is just ridiculous.

"If there ends up being a Serious Case Review, who is going to get the blame? It will be the staff.

"This Government needs to take charge of social care.

"We need an improvement that will actually deliver for the people of this county."

Labour called for a cross-party committee to be set up that could work out an improvement plan for the department.

Last month, a further redesign was planned for adult services in a bid to meet the mounting financial pressures.

Though the council has a statutory duty to care for elderly, vulnerable and disabled people in the county - some of that will need to be met by the volunteer groups if the council is to avoid going over budget.

Chiefs at County Hall claim the county's over-65s population is growing faster than any other county and could increase by 28 per cent by 2024, creating an untold burden on their carers.

Recruitment, they say, has also proved challenging. In 2016, the department reported having 50 vacancies that needed filling.

But if Care Quality Commision (CQC) inspectors give it an "inadequate" rating following next month's inspection, it is believed the council would need to find an extra £5 million to bring it up to scratch.

Speaking at yesterday's meeting, 69-year-old Jean Lineker, of Standerns Barn, saw how stretched the home help workers had been while visiting her late husband.

She said: "The dinner and tea was always late but, most of all, their dinners were microwaved. They only ever had 15 minutes to come around and see people.

"Children need stability and consistency - and so do the elderly."

Penny Smith of the county's Unison branch told how staff were doing their best in challenging situations. The recent pay freeze had also left them feeling "undervalued", she said.

For the Conservatives, Councillor Lizzy Bowen (Con, Nene Valley), said the council was the "lowest-funded and lowest-staffed in the country."

"It is set unrealistic targets," she continued.

"We are on the edge of intervention - and I think it is important to address that."

But Councillor Bowen said it was important to wait for the CQC inspectors to make their conclusions after next month's visit.