SUPPORT services for unpaid carers and their families are being made subject to an improvement plan – only a year after they were first launched.
Special hubs were set up last year in Hanley and Stafford to create direct access points to information, advice, activities and training for more than 100,000 people who provide voluntary support in the county.
A report assessing the facilities, carried out by consumer champions Healthwatch Staffordshire, revealed some frustration among those who use them and identified a number of areas which could be improved.
Training provider PeoplePlus, which took over delivery of the services last October, has now put in place a string of measures to address many of the issues raised and has asked Healthwatch to carry out a follow-up evaluation to ensure progress is monitored.
The study revealed gaps in the service, delays in obtaining assessments and an absence of specialist support.
Carers had found services for young carers to be limited and there has been a general lack of targeted promotion to raise awareness of what’s on offer to carers in Staffordshire.
There were also problems with access and parking at hub buildings, while the company’s relationship with other providers was described as ‘mixed’.
Kevin Rodger, Communities Director at PeoplePlus, said many of the recommendations in the report related to the initial setting up of the hubs and the first six months of delivery.
But he said: “We recognise that some of the issues highlighted by Healthwatch required our attention and there are plans in place to ensure these are implemented.
“We are committed to delivering the very best service for carers in Staffordshire so we take every opportunity to hear directly from service users and respond to what they’re telling us.
“We have already made a number of changes to our delivery model and, while there are plans in place to do more, significant progress has already been made at a fairly rapid pace.”
Mr Rodger acknowledged the need to reduce waiting times for assessments and said an investigation into the reason for delays would prompt further change.
He said a switch of venue had already addressed concerns about access to one of the hubs.
“Our new premises in Stoke (Birches Head Road), means there is increased space for activities and free parking, which I know was a major issue for people,” he added.
The main hubs are connected to some 20 ‘outreach’ points throughout the county – delivering access to support via GP surgeries, libraries or other community buildings.
Jan Sensier, chief executive of Engaging Communities Staffordshire, which delivers Healthwatch, said: “Thousands of people in this area provide an invaluable service by looking after an ill, frail or disabled partner, family member or friend.
“The hubs should provide all the help, advice and guidance they need, so we need to ensure they’re working effectively or if there are still any gaps in the service.
“This evaluation project has helped to reveal several areas which require improvement and we’re delighted to hear that PeoplePlus are acting on our findings.
“We will undertake another study in March as it will be important to see if the changes made in the delivery of the service are having the desired effect.”
Alan White, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for Health, Care and Wellbeing, said: “Carers across Staffordshire do an amazing job day-in and day-out and it’s only right that we support them as much as we can.
“With all new partnerships it can take a little time to get things spot on and we’re pleased PeoplePlus is taking swift actions to address any concerns.”