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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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Cumbria County Council says it was paying for unused Alzheimer's care

Cumbria County Council has defended changes to the way it buys care for the vulnerable – insisting it was previously paying for services that weren’t being delivered.

The Alzheimer’s Society decided not to bid for fresh contracts because it said it couldn’t afford to work under the new system.

Previously the county council ‘block funded’ day centres for the elderly and disabled. That meant organisations were given a set amount of money on the assumption that a certain number of people would attend.

In some cases less than half of the predicted numbers were using the service, the county council says. In future it will only be paying for what is actually delivered.

The Alzheimer’s Society runs day centres in Carlisle, Keswick, Penrith and Appleby.

The county council funds 45 places at Carlisle’s Beverley House but the average attendance is 76 per cent. It drops to just 32 per cent at the Rawnsley Centre in Keswick, where the county council buys 44 places.

At Tynefield Drive in Penrith roughly half of the 12 places paid for are used.

The Riverside Building in Appleby is the most successful, with an 86 per cent take-up.

Overall the day services contract with the Alzheimer’s Society, which includes a further 13 individual bookings in South Lakes and Barrow, was worth £255,000 a year.

The number of people attending day centres has been in decline for some years. It is said to be due to a change in lifestyles and growing popularity of direct payments, which allow people to choose how their own funding is spent.

Margaret Irving, Alzheimer’s Society’s area manager for The Lakes, said the charity is already losing money on day services and cannot afford income to drop any further.

She said: “Individuals will have the option to choose which operator they want to use and may opt for a cheaper operator than the quality service that the Alzheimer’s Society offer.

“Therefore we would run the risk of making even greater losses as services would have the same running costs whether or not places are all taken up.”

The society decided not to bid for the renewal of any of its support in the home contracts because of the decision on block funding.

The charity will work with the county council to ensure the transition is smooth, and offer more information and support services.

Councillor James Airey, cabinet member for adult social care, says the department’s budget must be spent on providing care, not subsidising the organisations paid to deliver it.

Mr Airey said: “We are moving to a system where if 10 people go to a day centre then we will be paying for 10 people to go.

“When there are two or three smaller organisations in a town running similar services it will encourage them to work together to provide one service which is more cost-effective and valuable for everyone.”

The new way of paying for day centre places is part of the re-tendering of all adult services and some 400 contracts are involved.

The process, which is compulsory under EU regulations, began last summer and is expected to be completed later this year. Most contracts relate to care in the home, which is paid on an hourly rate, and agencies are being asked to apply for the deals they want.

The county council says it is determining the contracts by placing 20 per cent weight on the price and 80 per cent on quality.

If specialist skills are required for a contract then only agencies that can offer them will be considered.

County staff have been sent out to help organisations write their bids.

Mr Airey believes the geography of the county means most people will end up with their current care provider.

For those who do not, monitoring will be in place.

Mr Airey added: “I’m not going to say there won’t be some teething problems but we’ll have staff working with people to ensure that if there are any issues they will be dealt with."

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