Social care shake up for thousands in Norfolk

Thousands of elderly and disabled people are set for a huge social care shake-up within weeks, after councillors agreed a radical shift in how Norfolk's vulnerable are looked after.

Members of Norfolk County Council's controlling cabinet agreed yesterday to shift the authority away from running day centres.

The council will instead hand personal budgets to people who use those services so they can choose what to spend the money on.

County councillors also agreed to bring free county council-run day centre services and home care to an end, with people set to be charged for the first time in the new year.

They were among a string of recommendations agreed by the cabinet which will see a major change in the way elderly and vulnerable people are cared for in Norfolk.

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Instead of people with social care needs going to a council-run day centre, Norfolk County Council, will roll out personal budgets to more than 4,300 people who use day services, between next month and December.

That means people eligible for social care will be assessed and given a set budget to pay for their care, with the choice of how to use it up to them.

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And the changes would also see around 600 people who currently receive free county council-run day-centre services and home care, charged for the first time.

From January next year, they will be asked to pay around �15 a session, which the county council says could raise �1.8m.

It will also see the phased ending of subsidised meals-on-wheels and increased charges for home care, although the council is to scrap fees for its Norfolk First Support scheme, which provides support to elderly people recovering from falls or hospital treatment, and make it a free service.

The shake-up is part of a move away from the traditional way of the county council directly running day centres, which is the reason the day centres at the Silver Rooms and Essex Rooms in Norwich are due to close, with users moving to other clubs in sheltered housing complexes.

Social services bosses say people will get more choice on the sort of care they receive through personal budgets. They say they can still choose to go to day services, but might also use decide to use the cash for a holiday break instead of respite care, to join the local gym, to pay for complementary therapies such as aromatherapy or reflexology, on transport to visit family or friends or to pay for personal assistants instead of carers.

David Harwood, cabinet member for adult and community services, said: 'What this does is give service users control over when and where they purchase their care from.

'I would stress, though, that having a personal budget does not mean they have to manage that budget. They can do, but each of them can fall back onto the county council to manage it and deliver the services as they do now.

'It's not a case of giving someone money to buy services and leaving them on their own. I want to make sure that everyone is aware they won't have to manage the personal budgets if they do not want to.'

More than 3,600 people in Norfolk are already using personal budgets. One of them is Sandie Bailes, 63, from Dereham, who described her personal budget as the best thing ever to happen to her.

She had an operation to remove a brain tumour in 1998, fought depression in 1999, and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2001.

But she says the personal budget gave her the freedom to decide what sort of care she should receive, including employing two personal assistants to help her.

She said: 'They are the difference for me. I have been able to spend the money on what I want, rather than on what somebody thinks I want.

'It is a really scary thing at first. It's so important to sit down and talk about what it will all mean, but I'd say to people that they should not be put off by it. It is the best thing I have ever done.'

Her husband Arthur, 72, who took early retirement to look after his wife, said: 'It's taken a lot of the pressure off me because, with the best will in the world, you cannot give care 24 hours a day seven days a week. 'When her assistants are here it means I can switch off for a bit, because I know she is in safe hands. She can go and do girlie shopping with them while I enjoy my own hobbies.'

But, while for people like Mrs Bailes the personal budget has worked very well, Kate Rudkin, head of development and operations at Age UK Norfolk, said she was not sure elderly people would be so keen to manage their own money.

She said: 'What the county council is saying is that people can have the money to manage if they want to, but they don't have to. 'I think it is likely a lot of people won't take the money because they will want community services to continue to organise their care for them.

'The downside of that is that, while personal budgets are meant to give people more choice, there is a risk they won't actually be offered as much choice, because there will not be enough time to sit down with people to explain and organise what they might be able to do.

'I think that's the danger of rolling it out to so many people so quickly.'

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