Discovery performance report “a sham”

Public service union UNISON has branded a Discovery performance report on the outsourced learning disability service (LDS) provider “a sham” ahead of a Somerset County Council scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday (8 November).

The comments come following concerns the Discovery performance report does not reflect service quality since the outsourcing six months ago.

The Somerset County Council-approved document is “satisfied” with Discovery’s performance in the six months since it took over the learning disability service, despite only four out of twelve Key Performance Indicators being met. The Transformation programme is judged “on track”, a contrast with recent events where Discovery bosses were forced to halt their restructuring efforts in the face of staff and customer unhappiness.

The report in fact details a worsening situation in the LDS. A “significant number” of so-called “never events” have taken place, which are described as “those that should never happen”. Such instances were rare under the in-house provision. 45 safeguarding incidents took place in a three month period.

Somerset County Council made business expansion part of its contract requirements, but Discovery have had to shut off existing Crisis Support services to new customers. Individuals needing crisis support will now be sent elsewhere. In a recent meeting Discovery advised UNISON that safety risks mean they cannot accept new Day Service customers either.

Staff turnover remains high but according to the Discovery performance report is “as expected”, despite the promise to customers from the County Council that continuity of care would be assured. Use of agency workers is now consuming almost 10% of the staffing budget. Though sickness absence in the months before the outsourcing was decreasing, it has now gone up for five months in a row.

Discovery state that the relationship with UNISON is “the most positive to date”. While both sides say relations have improved, this comes after a consultative ballot for industrial action returned a 97% “Yes” vote to reject changes to terms and conditions and to explore industrial action.

The report places blame on the previous in-house service. In it, Discovery allege long-term problems of poor performance and say “the depths of this are still being fully understood”. The outsourced firm’s own measures receive a glowing write-up.

In contrast with the report’s claims, consultation with customers before the transfer showed high levels of satisfaction with the in-house service and a desire for the outsourced provision to keep up similar standards. Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections of the in-house service also rated it “good” or “outstanding”. Discovery have declined to provide customer surveys for their time managing the service.

County councillors will now assess the report at a scrutiny meeting on 8 November.

UNISON South West regional organiser Helen Eccles said:

“We want the ‘sustainable high quality LD service’ that SCC promised. This can only be achieved by an honest assessment of what is happening in the service. More agency staff mean no continuity of care. Reductions in staff numbers and conditions are transforming the LDS into a bargain-basement service. And the fundamental trust between the employer and the workers and customers is breaking down in the face of reports that are a sham.

“A heavy burden of responsibility now sits with the scrutiny committee. UNISON hopes they will stand up for Somerset people and reject this evidence-light report. Staff and customers will be at the scrutiny meeting to give councillors the view from the frontline.

“The County Council has a responsibility to LDS customers to fix this vital support. We are asking Somerset County Council to establish the facts about service delivery and the reasons for what we see as a decline in quality. SCC need to engage with customers and staff to achieve this rather than rely on the smokescreen and finger-pointing report they have been provided.”

Further information
  • Read the SCC Discovery performance report
  • The Scrutiny committee meeting is at County Hall in the Luttrell room from 10:00
  • UNISON representatives from the LDS will meet concerned customers and their families outside County Hall at 09:30 on Wednesday 8 November.