Edinburgh Council's social care service is in crisis, with hard-working staff overwhelmed, out-dated tech and multiple other critical problems – Iain Whyte

Edinburgh Council is officially in recess, ie a holiday from committee meetings.
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However, the chaotic way things are being run meant there was still a need for an extra finance and resources committee meeting last Thursday, specifically to set fees and charges for the year ahead.

The headlines were all about the 20 per cent increase to city centre parking charges, but the most significant thing on this “emergency one item agenda” was an extra report officers added about a new computer system for social care. Business cases for new computer systems don’t generate many headlines, but the report opened up a discussion of council officers’ views of the underlying crisis in Edinburgh’s social care services.

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The boring bit is that the council runs an ancient social care management software system called Swift. The council’s internal audit team has been highlighting major problems with Swift since 2016, with the latest report stating the storing of records was not compliant with strict data security rules. For an organisation whose social care management has been under the spotlight for a while, this admission was startling.

I questioned the chief executive about these failures at another committee and he admitted officers chose not to list the replacement of Swift as an option in the 2019 Capital budget because it was “unaffordable”. Surely a choice for councillors to consider against other priorities?

You might be saying “so what, it’s just a computer system”, but this report did not appear in a vacuum as we have recently received a Care Inspectorate report about adult social work. The IT system, it said, was “out of date and not fit for purpose”. It also listed multiple other critical problems in adult social care.

The key messages showed the crisis the city is facing. Staff were praised for working hard, although it was recognised that they were feeling overwhelmed. Hardly the right conditions for recruitment when many more staff are urgently needed. Managers spent their time solving short-term problems rather than freeing up their time to make the system work. Senior staff spent lots of time in meetings “with often no or minimal positive outcomes”.

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The report also highlighted the impact on the most important people – those requiring social care. “There was insufficient support for unpaid carers”. “Self-directed support had not been implemented effectively.” Perhaps the saddest comment in the report was that “opportunities to improve the well-being for significant numbers of people and carers had been missed”. In other words, the council is letting people down and leaving them to live poorer lives.

Edinburgh Council's social care service is letting vulnerable people down (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA)Edinburgh Council's social care service is letting vulnerable people down (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA)
Edinburgh Council's social care service is letting vulnerable people down (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA)

There has been cross-party shock at the inspectorate report although this isn’t the first time. Back in 2017, after a similarly damning report, the council assured us the problems in social care were being fixed. Six years later there has been no delivery. Thankfully, I believe all parties now understand, even where they didn’t before, that there can be no more sweeping of social care problems under an even bigger carpet.

We cannot accept a culture where the inspectorate describes “insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight of key processes… to ensure sufficient capacity and capability to deliver safe and effective services for vulnerable people”. Edinburgh’s social care needs fixed, and needs fixed now.

Councillor Iain Whyte is Conservative group leader on Edinburgh Council