Replacing care chief won't bring overnight improvements - Sue Webber

It’s been years in the making and no-one should be fooled into thinking that just replacing Edinburgh’s health and social care chief Judith Proctor will bring about overnight improvements.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSPSue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP

Ms Proctor never moved from her Aberdeen home and in the five years since her appointment never gave the impression of being much more than a caretaker boss, acknowledging problems but not providing the leadership or taking the necessary action needed to address the many problems the organisation faced.

Let’s not forget that Ms Proctor was brought in to tackle a crisis following the resignation of her predecessor, Robert McCulloch-Graham, who quit in 2017 after less than two years in the job for failing to meet key targets such as a significant reduction in bed blocking.

The lack of progress in the early years of her tenure meant the care system was in no fit state to cope with the pandemic, and the result was untold tragedy. It’s understandable that the pandemic meant making progress with underlying issues was doubly difficult but an internal briefing in 2021 didn’t scratch the surface of what Ms Proctor was facing.

It identified increasing demand but decreasing availability of care due to vacancies, resulting in longer waits for support assessments, and claimed work was focussing on long-term sustainability.

The report was dominated by buzz-phrases like embedding the Three Conversations approach, finalising the Edinburgh Wellbeing Pact, promoting community mobilisation and the OneEdinburgh Approach, but there was a noticeable absence of measurable targets, just vague commitments like “need to work at speed on this given the fragility in the market right now” and “examining options for support to ‘unpaid carers’ during the winter months”.

Two years on and the Care Inspectorate report in March this year could hardly have been worse, showing clearly that very little, if anything, had changed. Weaknesses in the assessment of needs were still evident and “examining options” had produced insufficient support for unpaid carers. Hard-working staff were overwhelmed, and early intervention approaches were uncoordinated. So much for OneEdinburgh.

And at the top of the organisation the pace of change was slow, approaches to quality assurance were not well-embedded, the IT system was obsolete and there were no effective social work governance arrangements in place. It was all summed up as insufficient strategic leadership.

It was nothing short of a disgrace and given what Ms Proctor had reported in 2021 it was patently obvious her position was untenable. But with such a large and complex organisation she cannot bear sole responsibility for bringing such a vital service to its knees. Those who appointed her and let this situation deteriorate are as much to blame as she, and the evidence strongly suggests some around her on big salaries should have done more.

Against this background, finding a truly inspirational and energetic leader prepared to take on the challenge will be far from easy, but the city can’t afford to get this wrong a third time. It needs someone with courage to take bold decisions and set clear goals for which they are accountable, but also hold those who prevent progress to account.

It also needs someone who will break with the council’s culture of secrecy, but do those appointing a successor really want a genuine leader in their midst?

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP