Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Being held to account

Paul Snell WalsinghamStrengthening corporate accountability for social care providers is important, but this must not discourage people with learning disabilities from becoming trustees, says Walsingham’s Paul Snell:

Winterbourne View shocked us all.

As a social care provider, we at Walsingham welcome proposals such as the recent Department of Health consultation on ‘Strengthening corporate accountability in health and social care’ if they can help to prevent a similar outrage from happening again.

But while corporate accountability is important, we shouldn’t overlook the impact that these proposed changes may have on people with a learning disability who are or who want to become trustees of charities.

Walsingham has recruited trustees with a learning disability for the past four years. Trustees are removed from the day?to?day operations of an organisation, so I believe that the personal liability of each trustee should be proportionate to the level of control they have over service delivery.

If the corporate accountability proposals are given the go?ahead, it is vital that all trustees really understand their legal responsibilities and the potential consequences. These are not easy concepts to understand. As service providers, we must provide comprehensive information and on-going support for trustees – particularly for those with a learning disability ? so they have a clear understanding of their role and can fulfil their duties effectively.

I also have questions about the implementation of the proposed fit and proper person test. Will there be one test for everyone regarding their competence and capability? How will this work in practice for someone with a learning disability?

Strengthening corporate accountability on its own is not a magic solution to guarantee the safety and quality of social care services. There are many other ways to ensure that an organisation’s culture and values are person?centred and that the best possible quality support is provided.

For me, the best judges of the quality of services are the people who use them. For example:

• People we support played a key role in developing our Quality Standards
• Our monthly quality audits include interviews with people using our services to find out what is and isn’t working
• At our externally?facilitated local and national forums, people can voice their opinions about services and provide valuable input to our policies
• Our trustees regularly visit people using our services to ask them about our support
• Our annual meeting includes a question and answer session, in which people can question trustees and senior management directly about their support and matters affecting them
• People are involved in initial review decisions to confirm whether staff supporting them should pass their probation period
• We distribute annual questionnaires to everyone who uses our services
• Our comprehensive feedback system is available in accessible formats.

We will also be taking part in an exciting new initiative funded by the Department of Health. Our managers and some of the people we support will assess the services of other organisations and vice versa. Not only will this provide a truly independent view of the quality of our support, we will also gain and share fresh perspectives on ways of working.

While strengthening corporate accountability is important in ensuring that events like Winterbourne View never happen again, we must make sure that people with a learning disability who want to be trustees are not disadvantaged. And let’s not forget there are many other ways we can use the experience of people with a learning disability to monitor and improve the quality of the support we provide.

Paul Snell is chief executive of Walsingham, a registered charity supporting people with disabilities and other social care needs across England and Wales.

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