Community Comment – by David Woods
In the last year the Edinburgh City Council has put out for tender the contracts for the provision of its care and support services.
The aim, according to Paul Edie, convenor for health, social care and housing, is to “increase capacity, improve care quality and decrease costs.” In fact, they hope to save as much as £5.5 million over the next three years.
What price will service users pay for the council’s cost cutting measures?
Tomorrow the council meet in the city chambers to ratify their decision about who should receive the contracts. This decision criteria for the acceptance of tenders was announced as 70% quality and 30% cost.
But as a service user, my fear is that this process is only a cost cutting exercise. And it seems clear that the best service providers, with years of specialist experience of working with people with disabilities, will be the ones to go.
It’s been surprising how little consultation there has been with the people who will be most affected. I was not consulted, and nor were the vast majority of service users I know.
I suffer from a long term mental condition – one that was made better by having weekly visits from my support worker. I’m still anxious about the meeting tomorrow, but it looks like I’ll be one of the lucky few – my service provider, Places for People, is one of the organizations that will receive some of the work being allocated.
Of the four groups that are being awarded the contracts, only one has any real experience of dealing with people with mental health problems. Penumbra and Health in Mind, who both specialize in these areas, have lost their contracts.
According to an open letter published by Community Care Providers Scotland, the council’s own figures suggest that eighteen specialist and experienced voluntary organizations will be put out of business.
Some have worked with the council for over twenty years, and most are rated by the CCPS as “very good” or “excellent” – higher gradings than the private companies that will take over their roles.
A lot of people with mental health problems who receive their care through these organizations are understandably upset. Some have received care from the same person or company for many years, and have built up a close relationship.
This familiarity helps not only fosters trust, but can help movement towards recovery. Conversely, anxiety and fear of the coming changes is already having an impact on some service users in the capital.
The council have cited improvement of quality for the award of the new contracts, but I am sure will also be happy to be able to save 21 percent on the current budget. I find it very hard to understand how an organization can maintain the same standard of care, let alone improve it, by reducing the amount of money put into it.
Where will the savings be made? Having thought about it for some time, I can only imagine it will be done by reducing staff wages, or cutting the amount of time a support worker can spend with a single client.