THE director of social work at Scottish Borders Council has vowed to turn round struggling care services in the region.
Andrew Lowe’s annual report to councillors revealed a reduction in quality of care services in the Borders, with 11 per cent rated by inspectors as weak or unsatisfactory – the lowest of six grades – from April 2011 to March this year.
Of the 60 private, voluntary or non-for-profit and local authority care providers monitored by the Care Inspectorate, two SBC-run services picked up the poorest grades.
Mr Lowe said: “The quality of some care services appears to have dropped this year.
“While a total of 82 per cent of care services achieved grades of good or better, 11 per cent were either unsatisfactory or weak.
“That is significant and we will be working with the Care Inspectorate to improve these services.”
Jedburgh councillor Sandy Scott fears staff in care homes, adult placement schemes and support services are being put under increased pressure by the number of inspections.
He said: “I note inspectors visited 60 care services this year. It does put staff under a lot of strain and it inhibits them from doing their job on that day.
“I wonder if inspections are becoming too big a burden.”
Mr Lowe replied: “The Care Inspectorate carry out one unannounced and one announced inspection every year unless, there are grounds to go in more frequently.
“It works in partnership with us to improve services and these inspections are part of the process.”
Mr Lowe added that a risk assessment process is being introduced within his department to monitor the quality of care in these services.
His annual report highlighted the increasing responsibility being placed at the feet of SBC’s social work team.
It showed a staggering rise in the number of vulnerable people thought to be at risk of harm.
Adult protection referrals went up from 133 in 2010/11 to 292 in 11/12 – an increase of 220 per cent.
SBC says the jump is due to a shift in policy to report and record medication errors in care services, resulting in 54 extra referrals.
However, it admits the general trend is increasing, with the reasons for referrals varying from fears over physical harm (24 per cent), financial or material harm (21 per cent) and neglect (20 per cent) being the most common.
Sexual abuse made up five per cent, or around 15 referrals last year, and psychological abuse accounted for 12 per cent.
Executive member for social work, Councillor Frances Renton, added: “Myself and the director of social work have toured around the Borders in the last 18 months of residential services. I am confident people are more aware of their obligations than before. I believe that has resulted in more reports than before.”
The number of children and young people requiring accommodation by SBC rose in line with a national trend which is at a 30-year high.
And youngsters included on the child protection register increased to 34, although this remains below the national average.
Mr Lowe, who has been in post for eight years, said that the Borders’ ageing population, along with cuts to public spending, was another additional pressure on social work.
He told councillors: “There will be an increase of 3,000 people over 65 in the next five years which means significant planning implications for us.
“Reduced public spending in Scotland has impacts for this council and the vulnerable people we try to support.
“We need to try and be as efficient as possible.”
Other figures to come out of the annual report showed the Borders was home to 104 sex offenders, made up of 92 at level one, 11 at level two and only one person was deemed a high risk at level three.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary question by the Scottish Conservatives has shown that care home places in this region have fallen to 870 this year, having previously stood at 964 in 2007.