Today I took some time out to visit a number of staff working in Reading Borough Council's Community Care Directorate who work to support elderly and vulnerable people in Reading. I have wanted to do this for a long time but my work and Council diary have meant my free time has sadly beenlimited.
As Lead Member my weeks tend to consist of a regular diet of officer briefings, both oral and written. These briefings are obviously necessary to get a thorough understanding of current policies and issues.
However, if you are not careful as a councillor you can become an expert on policy and you can lose sight of what your role is. Councillors are not elected to become policy experts. This is what we elected highly-trained officers for. Councillors are elected to bring insights from the local community and represent the views of local people. We are also elected to take decisions and to do this we need a good understanding of issues affecting the full range of our services.
With this in mind I am keen to get out of the Civic Officers as often as possible to meet staff and service users and to get a better understanding of how our services work on the ground.
My visit began with a trip to meet Community Care staff working in Intermediate Care/Reablement some of whom are based at The Avenue Centre in Tilehurst. I found it really interesting meeting the service managers and speaking directly to staff about the impact of recent innovations on them and local residents.
One such innovation includes the new REACT service (Reading Adult Contact Team) where social care telephone calls from the public into the Council's corporate call centre. This new service was launched in November 2010. It means older residents and their carers now only need to make one phone call and not be passed around the houses to get support and advice.
Another innovation has been co-locating staff from a variety of professions in the same team i.e. occupational therapists working alongside social workers. This is leading to a more integrated, joined-up service and is leading to better outcomes for residents.
I spoke to staff about how our Reablement services work as I am keen to understand this service better. Reablement packages are individually tailored to residents by trained staff from a range of disciplines who are focussed on getting an individual back on their feet. Services are delivered in intensive 6 week bursts and involves agreeing goals with service users i.e going shopping, cooking meals where they have stopped being able to do these tasks for whatever reason. The aim is to get people back to full independence although if further services are still needed they can be provided.
We are already seeing the positive impact our local Reablement services are having on residents. Many residents do not need further care or support after they have been reabled. This is fantastic news for those individuals who previously may have languished in hospital or struggled on at home. This service is also having a positive impact on the number of hospital referrals in our area - good for residents and budgets. For this reason it is good news for Reading that the Coalition Government is committed to investing in local Reablement services so we can help more people.
I also spoke to staff who help residents manage long term conditions by arranging things like home adaptations and telecare.This is vitally important as it helps residents live independently and enjoy a good quality of life. We talked about the way in which self-directed support or personal budgets work and the potential benefits for service users. The Government has already signalled that it would like to see councils go further on this and we are making good progress in Reading in supporting people to use personal budgets.
My next stop was to visit the Community Mental Health Team who are based at Prospect Park Hospital. I spoke to a range of practitioners about the full range of services they provide to adults across the Borough. It was encouraging to hear of the wide range of support available to people with a range of mental health problems. I spent some time talking to the team that works with people who have had mental health problems to help them find work, and to staff who signpost people with mental health problems to activities in the community. All really worthwhile.
Finally I went to visit staff working in social care services based in the Whitley Health Centre. Staff there identify support needs of hundreds of residents living in and around South Reading.
All in all it was a really interesting, inspiring afternoon. I was struck once again by the enthusiasm, energy and dedication of all the staff I met today. I am very grateful to them for welcoming me into their workplace and responding to my questions and comments. I am very grateful to for all the hours they devote to helping and supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our Town.
In turn I hope staff found it useful to meet me and to put a face to a name. I try to make myself accessible as I think it's really important for councillors to be visible not just in the Council Chamber but to staff and the community - particularly as we are charged with making decisions on behalf of residents.
I am always keen to learn more about our services and policies to help make better decisions, so I am planning further visits to staff and service users in future.