Thursday, 24 September 2009

Follies and IT Problems

It’s been a tough week back in my usual team. I’ve just enjoyed a very relaxed week ‘on-loan’ to another team during their re-organisation and office move. This I was told as I reported for my first day involved holding the fort for them by acting as duty Care Manager for a week. Fortunately for me the fort saw less action than one of Palmerston’s follies.

I was struck by the difference in culture between my host team and my regular team. In my new team people made tea for eachother, it seems like a small detail but it’s one which is telling. I felt supported and immediately hit it off with all of the team over their regular Monday pub lunch. It started to feel a lot like the French philosophy of work rather than the Anglo-Saxon definition. I wondered with the changes, which will surely over time mean increased workloads, whether this cordiality would disappear. Was the pub lunch like France the day Sarkozy was elected; did change loom in the air?

I was confronted by bureaucracy on the second day the day of the actual move. On of the key elements of the structural change is the merger of NHS teams with Social Services Teams. Community Matrons, Physiotherapists, Care Managers, Rehab Assistants and Social Workers all working together. This presents an IT nightmare. The computers we were using were owned by the NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT). To access these you needed a PCT log-in. Once logged in a separate portal could be used to log-in to the Local Authorities system. In accordance with the Authority’s approach to forward planning nobody had seen fit to issue me with a PCT log in. I was given a number of PCT IT support. I called only to be told that I needed a form completed by a manager to get a log in…. fair enough…. How long does it take?.... “a week” was the curt reply. I ended up, with a managerial blind-eye being turned, using other peoples PCT log-in and then logging myself into the Authority’s system. Unfortunately a security feature means that when the computers switch to power save mode they automatically lock. Not good when the person who’s log on you have used is out of the office and not answering their mobile. My colleagues with PCT log-ins fared no better, some were left without desks, computers, access to printers and others were caught in the middle of a ping-pong match between the Authority’s IT services and the PCT IT services over who was responsible for supplying the fix for each particular IT problem.

Somehow we managed to keep the service together. In part due to the help of my usual team who always play the role of sweeper in the organisation, however, also because it has been decided that though ‘professionals’ (the definition of which is still under debate) can refer directly to the new teams they will not be told they have to until November. This buys the new teams some breathing space. As for November…..

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Future

Sunday mornings; A stray thought of work appears in my head like a lone cloud in an otherwise clear sky signalling the end of that perfect sunny day. Sunday night; There is only brushing my teeth, 15-20 pages of reading my book (currently my escape fantasies are being sated by My 'Dam Life; Three Years in Holland by Sean Condon), and finally shutting my eyes, between me and a week of stress, boredom, and frustration which will make me either a.) want to or b.)actually bang my head on my desk.

The coming week, now approaching faster than Lewis Hamilton, is like a September morning; Difficult to read in it's ambiguity. The reason? The long planned structural changes will be going live. I will be with one of the new teams for the week. On one hand I'm excited. My current desk has over three years become over familiar like a cell is to a lifer who can picture every nuance of every brick with their eyes firmly shut. But there is the lone cloud. Will it pass by like a lone-wolf or is it an outrider, leading the snarling storm in it's wake?

Certainly the conversations I have had during the week lead me towards the latter hypothesis. Oh well; Time to brush my teeth.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Underpaid and undervalued.

I've just been reading an article published on the excellent Guardian Unlimited society section. Finally a Government Minister Andy Burnham, seems to be facing up to the reality that downward pressure on carers wages is undermining the quality of services.

I'm something of a prolific commenter on the society pages and posted my thoughts under the name enzee199:

When I first entered the field 5 years ago my Local Authourity was paying around of £15.00 per hour to block contract providers. Under the latest agreements rates are as low as £11 per hour. Add the affect of inflation and this is quite a decline.
Social Care is a labour intensive business so a significant chunk of the savings will undoubtably have come straight out of carers pay packets.
As well as this, at a time when 'local' service provision is being championed by policy guru's, declining rates favour large national providers who can gain economies of scale in the back-office functions like HR, legal, payroll, and training, edging out local or regional providers in the race to snap up LA contracts.
I don't see this situation improving, at least for the average less well-off service user, with developments like IB's. Unless a friend or family member is willing to help out for the amount a LA will pay then they will be forced to purchase care from a national provider or face paying a top-up mirroring the situation with residential care i.e the LA will pay for a bog-standard room in one of the less desierable homes unless you have a family member who wants to pay extra so you have more choice.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Change Part II - Plus-Ca-Change

Since the mid 90s I've had an allegiance for Brighton and Hove Albion FC. When I was 14 this involved getting my mum and step-dad to drive for several hours to the Goldstone ground so I could buy a signed football and a replica shirt (in the days before the internet purchases like this necessitated a big adventure) . It seems irrational. I've only ever to this day seen the first team play once and at the time had no real connections with the Brighton area. In any case the Brighton area of the mid-90s was certainly not the sanitised vision of fun, funky, Brighton-based web-designer, sushi, sexy, creativity it is today. It was still dragging itself out of a pretty painful 1980s which had earned it the nickname skidrow-on-sea. Gentrification had not yet arrived to turf the giro-playboys out of the neglected Georgian buildings turned into bedsits and the city had a nasty heroin habit.

I am however, a sucker for the underdog and that is exactly what Brighton were at that point in their history. The club were in serious financial trouble, way before it became fashionable for clubs to call in the receivers once in a while, and were about to lose the Goldstone Ground to ground-share with Gillingham in Kent giving fans a huge round trip for a 'home' game. The team unsurprisingly were getting stuffed on the pitch at one point almost dropping out of the league altogether.

During these days I have one abiding image, burned into consciousness. Watching Brighton getting thrashed on a videotaped episode of Endsleigh League Extra I remember one of the players, a defender, head hanging in helpless desperation as the opposing striker sprinted joyously, arms aloft, back to his team-mates after slotting home something like the fourth goal against them. The look was one of complete demoralization. His eyes betrayed that he had faced the horrible realisation that no matter how hard he sweated, battled and strained it would be in vain as he was just one part of a system, a system which was no longer working and could not be saved by any one of its constituent parts.

Working for a Social Services department I know how that player feels.

Only the other week my team were told of how the planned reorganisation, mentioned in my earlier post 'Change', would be affecting us; that is despite previous assurances to the contrary. We were then told many of us would need to spend a week at the other teams to help-out with the transition as the teams would take on responsibility for referrals made to Social Services by 'professionals.' The remainder of the team would stay behind and continue to deal with referrals made by the general public which equates to very roughly 50% of our current workload.

We have today been advised of a slight re-think to the plans (due to go ahead in two weeks). Whilst professionals have been told they will need to refer directly to the new teams when the switch-over takes place if they do happen to call the main switchboard (operated by Capita) instead the referral will then be dealt with by my team. If this alone doesn't have the potential for confusion there will also be the fact that on day one many of the teams will be moving to new offices, unpacking, arranging files, desks etc and some apparently plan to just put the answerphone on.

Three of us, including myself, will still be going to another team. There will be no briefing from management about what we are expected to do whilst with the teams. My own management have told me that we're not there to shift boxes and if this happens to come straight back.

I'm starting to feel like that defender again.