Lewisham councillor calls for council to backtrack on changes to Care Act

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

A Lewisham councillor is urging the Government to backtrack on temporary changes to the Care Act which could stop disabled people getting the care they need.

It comes after Lewisham council said it would likely be delivering care services “far below the threshold” normally adhered to.

Campaigners are concerned that clauses in the emergency Coronavirus Bill remove the legal duty on councils to give social care to those who are eligible.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons, which passed the Bill on Monday, that the clauses were in place to allow staff, at an anticipated reduced level, to prioritise those they believe are most at risk.

A Government impact assessment said if the clauses were triggered, they “could result in individuals not receiving support for some needs where local authorities judge that resources need to be focused on meeting the most acute and pressing needs”.

“During the peak, adult social care services will face surging demand and reduced capacity arising from higher rates of staff absence.

“This may make it impossible for local authorities to continue to deliver at current service levels, or undertake the detailed assessments they would usually provide.

“In such circumstances it is crucial that councils should be able to prioritise care in order to protect life and reach rapid decisions over the provision of care without undertaking full Care Act compliant assessments,” it said.

Bellingham councillor Alan Hall said care assessments prevented people from taking up beds and putting added pressure on the NHS.

He said: “It’s to prevent people going into hospital – if they don’t get assessments, if they are not getting the care they need at home, they will end up in hospital.”

Cllr Hall added his signature to a letter from Inclusion London, a charity which promotes equality for deaf and disabled people, that was sent to MPs ahead of the second reading of the Bill.

He said: “I believe that the Coronavirus Bill presents a real danger to disabled people.

“It is understandable and right that the Government is attempting to relieve pressure on the NHS.

“But the Government’s plans for disabled children and adults during the coronavirus crisis are effectively rolling back 30 years of progress for disabled people.

“The proposals also come at a time when many disabled people have experienced years of cuts to their support.”

Despite this, the clauses were agreed.

A spokeswoman for Lewisham council, which closed all its offices on Tuesday and will now only be dealing with “urgent appointments,” said it will continue to meet Care Act duties “for as long as is feasible”.

She said: “These are unprecedented times and the council is having to focus our resources on reducing the risk of harm to vulnerable people.

“This is not a decision that is taken lightly, but with finite resources – especially human resources – available, we are not in a position where we can deliver all the services that we would like to.

“Officers will continue to meet Care Act duties for as long as is feasible, but at times, it is likely that the services delivered will fall below that threshold.

“However, we will endeavour to make sure any reduction in provision will be for as short a time as possible.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said it recognised the “deep concern and anxiety that many people will be experiencing during this challenging time”.

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