Graham Gatehouse retires from Suffolk

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of taking Suffolk’s Director of Social Services Graham Gatehouse out to lunch; sadly it was to mark his retirement from Suffolk. In his six years as Director, Graham has overseen a number of important innovations that have transformed the quality of the services we are able to provide and at the same time answered the incoming Conservative administration’s demand for cost efficiency in the back office with ACS delivering 60% of the total efficiency savings across the council in our first term.

Wherever I go, another Council or to a conference, the conversation with care professionals goes something like this: “Hello, you’re from Suffolk, oh Graham Gatehouse is your Director!, how is he?, what a nice guy, you know your very lucky to have his knowledge in Suffolk, please do pass on my regards, I know him from….”.

The previous Monday I took some time over picking him a card and decided not to give his a ‘Sorry you’re leaving’ type one but a ‘thank you’ card, as I wanted to say thank you for all the help and advice he had been kind enough to give me in the 8 months I have been Portfolio Holder for Adult and Community Services. I shall miss his knowledge and amazing enthusiasm for the service after all the years he has worked and been a leader in his field. I wish him all the very best and I suspect he will not be retired for long, before his dedication to better care of the elderly and vulnerable in our society brings him back into a role somewhere and I wish him extremely well.

Ageing Population 2010 Annual Conference

Yesterday I attended the Ageing Population 2010 Annual Conference at the QE2 Conference Centre in London, where they recently held the Iraq War enquiry, you know the one where Tony Blair got less of a grilling that he did on the Fern Britton Show. Anyway as I stood drinking a cup of coffee in the mid morning break, I was thinking, this building must have the best views in London from its upper floors, over looking the rear of the newly renovated Supreme Court building, and beyond to Parliament Square and the House of Parliament with Westminster Abbey just to the right, quite a view.

Back to the conference floor, what particular stuck me from the very interesting mix of Speakers was the presentation in the morning’s plenary session by Dame Jo Williams who is the acting chair of the Care Quality Commission when she spoke about dignity in care. On the face of it we perhaps all think we know what dignity means, be it about privacy, being spoken to properly, a caring warm environment, good food and respect. But what struck me was when she referred to it as being more about choices, however frail you or I might get, just as now I want the choice to eat when I want to, choice to do the things I went to do, when I want to and not have to fit into a regiment regime however caring that might be, and that is a real challenge for our Care Homes, there is some great practice out there but we can always do more and is an aim which I am extremely keen to see promoted across Suffolk not only in the County ran Care homes but with our private partners as well.

Dame Williams also spoke of the important campaign that promotes this, the Dignity in Care challenge with its 10 simple aims that Sir Michael Parkinson has been spearheading this past year. The aims are simple and state that the high quality services that respect people’s dignity should:

1. Have a zero tolerance of all forms of abuse

2. Support people with the same respect you would want for yourself or a member of your family

3. Treat each person as an individual by offering a personalised service

4. Enable people to maintain the maximum possible level of independence, choice, and control

5. Listen to support people to express their needs and wants

6. Respect people’s right to privacy

7. Ensure people fell able to complain without fear of retribution

8. Engage with family members and carers as care partners

9. Assist people to maintain confidence and a positive self esteem

10. Act to alleviate people’s loneliness and isolation.

If you want to learn more about the campaign, I recommend having a look at, there you can sign up both as a Dignity in Care champion and choose to sign up for the regular email newsletter, it’s a quick, easy, read when it comes through and makes for very interesting reading on this important subject.

The closing speaker was Stephen O’Brien MP, the Shadow Care Minister and he spoke for about 15 minutes. As you can imagine it was not the most receptive audience, not to mention that it was the end of a long day as the conference was overrunning heading towards a 5pm close after a 9:20 start. However by the end of his remarkable speech where he laid out a vision for social care, a large number of people had stayed and were very eager to ask him questions about aspects of the Conservative proposals.

His speech was particularly pleasing to me as I recall last May, as this debate was starting to take shape, being invited, along with my fellow Suffolk councillor Graham Newman and a number of other councillors who are involved in the delivery of care services. to spend the day with Andrew Lansley and Stephen O’Brien in Birmingham where we debated and discussed a wide range of options and it was excellent to see how those early thoughts on how to pay for care have matured into a coherent set of proposals and an honest approach to the fact that there is still a debate that needs to take place as the county grapples with the row that has taken place about Free Home Care for those with the most critical needs and the ill thought-out and un-costed proposals in the Government’s Green Paper.

Free Home Care Debate

Last July Phil Hope the Care Minister launched a Green paper on how do we as a nation pay for care home provision for our aging population, and Councils and other organisations were given a December date by which to reply with what we thought. To be fair whilst the paper is fundamentally flawed it has in part raised this important subject of how we are going to pay for the Care of our ageing population up the agenda from what was previously a bit of a foot note in the overall Health debate, to front and centre on last week’s Prime Ministers Questions.

At it’s Local Government Association launch which I attended, when asked, why it was being published without financial costings of each model proposed. An uncomfortable Phil Hope and his team said the figures would be published shortly, which I and the rest of the room found to be quite staggering that a consultation was being launched without figures.

By the time I attended the Adult and Children’s Care Conference in Harrogate in late October, the costing had become something of a running joke and when pressed Phil Hope and his Civil Servant again promised that they were about to be published to quite a lot of laughter in the main Conference room. Surprise, surprise the deadline came and went and we still have not got the figures!

Another Surprise was to be had during the Party Conference season when Gordon Brown took everyone by surprise when he announced ‘free home care for all’. Putting aside which coloured Rosette you wear, it was perfectly clear to those in the know that this bright idea was thought up by 10 Downing Street with no reference to Phil Hope’s department, otherwise it would have be a corner stone of the Green paper.

So yet again we see another example of policy ‘on the hoof’, badly drafted, ill timed and far more worryingly when they did eventually publish some figures almost all organisations involved in the delivery of care have questioned firstly the estimated low numbers the government says will take up the free service, then the amount of money the government claimed they were going to put into it, and the unbelievable efficiency savings local social services are meant to make up this gap.

To give you an example of this Suffolk’s cost of this is more than £10 million a year irrespective of our grave concerns as to the numbers that leaves us with a minimum of £3.5 million a year shortfall, which we are to fund from efficient savings. Yet Suffolk is the second most cost efficient Council in Britain, yes there is more we can do and are doing but we have exceeded every Government target in the last five years when the Government itself has never hit any of their own, all this at a time when we are seeing a annual a 3% growth in the over 65 population per year and a growing demand for services year on year.

In response a small group of like minded Portfolio Holders and I decided beyond the formal consolation responses that always seems to be sent and filed away never to see the light of day again, we would try to raise our concerns to a wider audience and write to The Times and frankly our aspiration were little more than hopefully, fingers crossed, they would publish it; and to help it on its way we would circulate it to our fellow Portfolio Holders across England to see if they would be happy to sign it to give it some weight (over 70 did).

To our delight the Times decided that this was, as we felt, an important story and reported it on the Front Page of the Times on Wednesday February 10th with the Headline of ‘Councils say Brown care plan misleads the elderly’ with a sub heading of ‘Free home service won’t work, leaders tell the Times’. So from us crossing our fingers that our grave concerns would at least get published to front page was wonderful and a mark of how important this subject actually is.

As an amusing side note there certainly is moral tale to be had in that you should always check what you are putting your name to as five of those who signed the letter were labour Councillors who the following day, rather sheepishly, had to withdraw their names presumable after a call for Labour’s high command!

Following on from the front page story, I had a call from a reporter and an in-depth piece was done on what the costs would be for Suffolk and how we might pay for them. Beyond an analysis of the shortfall in government funding, the bigger concern remains as to how many people who currently take care of them own care needs will seek out the Free service offer, we believe the government and as was proven in Scotland, have grossly underestimated the numbers.

Then of course, politics being politics, the story rapidly moved on to the ‘Death Tax’ argument. Putting aside my firm believe that the Conservatives will bring forward a workable more sensible set of proposals on this most difficult of subjects I am delighted to have helped play a small part in seeing this difficult and important subject come to the fore, Nobody is arguing against the case for high-quality care for the people who need it, whether that be in your own home or a Residential Care Home suited to your particular needs. What we now need is an intelligent look at how we should pay for this as a country, not individual knee-jerk pieces of legislation.

Hello world!

Well I have today spent an hour or two reading about Blogger v WordPress and decided its wordpress for me. Now to have something to say! I suppose I wanted to start a blog so that I can post my thoughts about politics in general and issues related to Adult Social Care in particular. It’s my honour to be the Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care at Suffolk County Council and to represent residents and try to do my bit to improve the services we provide at a time of every increasing demand.

I hope, over time, I can use my blog to get feed back and help me understand what people think about the subjects I write about, of course that rather assumes people think I have blogged something interesting and worthy of taking the time to agree, or disagree, or offer me an alternate view-point, oh well here goes.

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