Northumberland County Council round-up: Public health, safeguarding, swimming and fostering

Northumberland County Council's headquarters in Morpeth.
Northumberland County Council's headquarters in Morpeth.

The way that the council funds and manages its public-health functions, such as smoking and drug misuse services, is set to change from April 2017.

The changes were set out in a report to Tuesday’s meeting of the authority’s care and well-being overview and scrutiny committee.

The proposed arrangements are for three blocks of public-health services – an integrated wellbeing service, to incorporate the specialist health improvement service and the specialist stop smoking service); an integrated substance-misuse treatment service;; an integrated service covering children and young people from 0 to 19 years old.

The report explains that this forms part of ‘a proposed shift towards an asset-­based, community-­centred approach to improving health and wellbeing’.

However, as with all public services, finance is also key to the changes.

The Government has announced that the ring­-fenced public-health grant to Northumberland County Council will be reduced by 15 per cent (£2.8million) between 2015 and 2020, with the council already making substantial savings across its overall budget.

The three blocks of public health services covered in the report are among those which the council is required by statute to arrange using the grant and so, as well as the efficiencies brought about by the amalgamation of services, the proposals will also see the redesigning of contracts.

According to the report, the award of these new contracts, or entering into a partnership arrangement, will ‘integrate several current wellbeing programmes into a single service’, ‘provide evidence-­based treatment, support and recovery services for stop-smoking and substance misuse’ and ‘amalgamate public-health services’ for 0 to 19-year-olds.

The estimated savings in 2017/18 are cited as £181,282 from the integrated wellbeing service, £300,000 from the substance misuse service and £500,000 from the youth service.

• New admissions were restricted because of safeguarding issues at eight care homes in Northumberland in the past year.

Three of those affected in 2015/16 were part of a group where there were concerns about leadership and the suspension was enforced by the council. This suspension was still in place as of March 31.

A further two homes had their registration temporarily suspended by the Care Quality Commission due to concerns about the quality and safety of the service.

Meanwhile, the number of Adult Concern Notifications was almost the same last year (4,782) as in 2014/15 (4,795).

However, there were 908 Safeguarding Referrals during 2015/16, 20 per cent higher than the previous year (754 referrals in 2014/15) and, of these, 54 per cent were assessed as requiring an investigation.

Plus, the council was approached to authorise 2,070 cases under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards in 2015/16 compared to 1,354 cases in 2014/15.

There were no cases referred for consideration for Serious Case Review.

• Active Northumberland, the council partner for leisure services, has been focusing on the development of swimming opportunities.

Sport England recently provided £20,000 funding to the arm’s length body to commission a piece of research this summer into the use of swimming pools at four of the facilities in Northumberland.

The primary aim of this project was to explore the behaviours and motivations for people who currently swim and the current barriers for those who do not.

Active Northumberland will be looking to develop an application for national funding to implement schemes and initiatives based on findings from the research.

This update on Swim Local 2016 forms part of a report to yesterday’s meeting of the county council’s arts, leisure and culture overview and scrutiny committee.

It also details Active Northumberland and Northumberland County Council’s efforts to secure external funding as a result of the new national strategy for sport up to 2021, Towards an Active Nation, launched by Sport England in May.

Plus, a review of sports facilities and playing pitches is being carried out.

• Northumberland families are being encouraged to get in touch with children’s services if they believe a child is being privately fostered to ensure they and the child receive any support that they need.

Private fostering is an arrangement made between a child’s parent and a private carer. It occurs when a child or young person under 16, or under 18 years if they are disabled, is cared for and provided with accommodation for more than 28 days, by an adult who is not a close relative.

A close relative is a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt, either full or half relation or by marriage. A step-parent not living with a parent would also be included.

Northumberland County Council has a responsibility to ensure that every child lives in a household which has basic safeguards against abuse and promotes their general welfare.

Any parent who makes such arrangements for their child and the carer has a responsibility to inform their local children’s services.

Paula Mead, the independent chair of Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB), said: “Concerns for the safety of children living away from home have to be put into context with the overall benefits to the developmental needs of the child and the best possible outcomes for their health and development.

“Every place in which they live should provide the same basic safeguards against abuse, and promote their general welfare, protect them from harm and treat them with dignity and respect.

“It is the duty of every local authority to satisfy itself that the welfare of the children, who are privately fostered within their area, is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted.”

For the Alnwick and Berwick areas, call 01670 629400.

• The ‘engagement process’ on the future of GP services in Harbottle has drawn to a close, according to a county-council report. The options being investigated are an existing practice providing a branch surgery at Harbottle; the cessation of current services; or multiple existing GP practices providing outreach clinics on a sessional basis from Harbottle.