Health and social care services funding is in crisis - Sue Webber

It’s fair to say the attention of the Scottish political world has been elsewhere over the last couple of days, but the SNP’s internal turmoil cannot be a distraction from serious problems of governance in public servicesnote-0.
Sue WebberSue Webber
Sue Webber

For reasons which are hard to understand, serious mismanagement at the top of health and social care services in Edinburgh has received scant coverage, despite my Conservative council colleagues and I repeatedly raising concerns about the performance of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (EIJB) which oversees their delivery, and a damning Care Inspectorate report last month.

It’s a catalogue of failure with direct impact on the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, and a good example is a family who contacted me a few weeks ago who cannot get any answers from Edinburgh Council’s Social Care Direct service. Their father has been left virtually penniless because £6000 is being taken from his account every month for essential care without justification due to a system breakdown the authority has so far failed to explain.

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Meanwhile, the absence of an effective management system means people are stuck in hospital who are well enough to be discharged, while waiting lists grow ever longer. Now the full extent of the system’s shortcomings has been exposed, there can be no hiding place.

Therefore, when councillors worry that replacing obsolete systems is hard to justify when potholes need filling or, as one Nationalist councillor did recently, argue we should wait for the SNP to sort out their dog’s breakfast of a National Care Service plan which will cost £2bn, they are letting down some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The SNP’s Care Service bill has had an extension and its very future is in doubt, so using it as an excuse for delay would be reckless and cavalier.

We now know a badly needed £6m case handling system modernisation project was vetoed in 2019 by Edinburgh’s most senior officers, including the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership’s chief officer Judith Proctor, and after the Care Inspectorate findings last month there is now a rush to produce a business case before the summer. Even so, a legally compliant, effective system will be three years away.

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How the council spends its budget is a political decision for elected members, because different parties will have different priorities, but it depends on accurate and impartial advice from officers about the options. Considerable time and money had been spent on producing a business plan for a replacement case handling system, but senior officers deliberately kept it back from councillors and now no money is available to replace a system the Care Inspectorate condemned as out of date.

Despite a catalogue of failure described in detail by the council’s own audit system as well as the care inspectorate, senior Labour councillors are happy to dismiss calls for change as Conservatives playing politics, as they did when we demanded an inquiry into Edinburgh’s catastrophic handling of whistle-blowing complaints, the repercussions of which are still being felt today.

There can never be any let-up in Conservative opposition to Labour and the SNP because they have allowed a complacent management culture in the City Chambers to flourish. Enough is enough and it’s time to sweep that culture away.

Sue Webber is a Lothian Scottish Conservative MSP

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