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Welsh Government issues formal guidance on Adult Social Services during the Covid-19 pandemic

Update by BASW Cymru

The Welsh Government has finally, some 30 days after counterparts in England, issued formal guidance on Adult Social Services during the Covid-19 pandemic 

The guidance outlines how Local Authorities in Wales should put into practice the ‘modifications’ to Adult Social Care duties under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (the 2014 Act) created by the Coronavirus Act 2020 (the 2020 Act).

The guidance clearly states that these modifications should only be exercised as a last resort and only ‘in order to maintain the highest possible level of services. There is a further strong declaration that Local Authorities should comply with the unmodified 2014 Act ‘for as long and as far as possible’.

These strictures are of course welcome, as is the recognition that the fundamental principles and values of the 2014 Act remain unmodified. The Guidance goes on to clarify that principles of prevention and early intervention; individual voice and control; and co-production remain, alongside core values of ‘equal concern and respect.’

In this regard, the guidance reminds Local Authorities that they will be expected to observe the all-UK Ethical Framework  that reinforces the practice principles of person-centred planning and care delivery.

As ever, statements about adhering to principles and values, whilst very welcome, may be of limited currency when considerations about the ‘devil in the detail’ are examined and it is here that the guidance is lacking.

Annexe A of the guidance appears to allow a Director of Social Services to make unilateral decisions to ‘change, restrict or cancel’ services due to Covid-19 related absences prior to even implementing the 2020 Act amendments.

Even when these are enacted (Stages 3 and 4) it is for the Director to ‘determine the need to consult’, rather than there being any requirement for them to do so and whilst they do have to inform Welsh Government of their intentions, there is no duty on Welsh Government to maintain and publish a list of all LA’s that are enacting.

In other words, much, if not all decision making, can be done without formal consultation or the ability of stakeholders and interested parties to have any oversight.

The guidance states that a local authority “should only take a decision to begin exercising its modified duties when the workforce  is depleted, or demand on social care increased, to an extent that it is no longer reasonably practicable for it to comply with its 2014 Act duties (as they stand prior to modification by the 2020 Act) or where to continue to try to do so is likely to result in needs not being met, potentially risking life.”

BASW Cymru is aware that at least two Local Authorities in Wales enacted the 2020 Act modifications upon commencement, but no information was made available that says this threshold was met. Both LA’s eventually changed their positions following intervention from Welsh Government but with no external oversight or scrutiny and with information for service users and their families on Local Authority websites being incredibly thin.

The potential lack of independent scrutiny around decision making is of real concern and any decisions to step down from 2014 duties will impact on those most severely impacted by austerity measures and the pandemic. We know all too well that the 2014 Act did not improve outcomes for unpaid carers who will undoubtedly shoulder the greatest burdens during and post the pandemic - this cannot be ethical or just. We are also dismayed that the older people’s commissioner will not automatically be informed when ‘step down’ happens, despite her petitioning for this to be included in the statutory guidance. This would have ensured that decisions which impact on older people would have an important level of independent scrutiny, advocacy and checks and balances.

We will continue to monitor the impact of the Coronavirus Act 2020 on the ethics and values base of our profession in Wales. We will also continue to nurture strong alliances with service user and carer groups. At this moment in time, the outlook for recipients of adult social care and unpaid carers in Wales is alarming to say the least.

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