Concerns of ‘worse not better’ system for vital care plans after another upheld complaint
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Nottinghamshire Council has again been slapped with a significant fine for the way an education, health and care plan was carried out, following a watchdog complaint.
The Conservative-run authority has been told to pay a mother £7,700 following a lack of communication around her daughter’s EHCP between July 2021 and July 2023.
These plans are for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than available through special educational needs support. They outline their needs and can ensure they are given extra help, such as with speech and language or physiotherapy.
In its findings, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the council did not find a suitable school for the child or put in place provisions to meet her EHCP.
The council was not found at fault for the way the child’s EHCP was reviewed, despite these reviews posing a major issue for the authority in recent months.
However, the upheld complaint is the fourth time this year the watchdog has upheld a complaint against the council for EHCP issues.
Similar reports have been discussed by the council’s governance and ethics committee this year, including upheld complaints with significant fines.
The report found children and young people are waiting too long to receive their specialist assessments through EHCPs, as well as help with speech and language therapy.
Government targets state children should not wait more than 20 weeks for these plans but, in Nottinghamshire, four in five wait longer than this.
Some children with “particularly complex needs” wait about 27 weeks, the report found.
Council bosses vowed to improve and extra staff have been committed to help reduce the backlog.
Robert Briggs, council service manager for pre-16 EHC assessments, told the latest governance and ethics committee meeting: “A number of factors have contributed to the shortcomings identified.
“This includes the pressure resulting from significant increases in requests for EHC needs assessments, meaning there was insufficient capacity to dedicate to this case.”
He also said there had been a “peak” in staff turnover which brought a “discontinuity in the service”.
Councillors from all parties raised concerns about the upheld complaint.
Labour’s Coun Errol Henry said: “It’s clear things are getting worse and lessons aren’t being learnt. Since May 2021, when this Conservative administration took control, there have now been seven EHCP complaints to the ombudsman. All seven have been found to be at fault. I think this is the fourth this year, meaning things are getting worse rather than better.”
In response, Coun Philip Owen, committee chairman, said: “I, personally, won’t be satisfied until there are no findings of fault against us.
“I’d dispute things are getting worse. You can say they are not as good as they should be and we accept that. We’ve no choice but to accept things have not gone well.”