By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Getting people out of hospitals and into supported care within their own homes is among the top priorities for Nottinghamshire County Council’s new social care chair.
Councillor Matt Barney (Con) has taken up the role as the authority’s new adult social care and public health portfolio holder following a major shake-up in the Conservative-led council’s governance.
Cllr Barney, who represents Leake and Ruddington, will now sit on the newly-formed cabinet at County Hall after the council approved a return to cabinet governance this month.
He takes over from previous committee chairman Cllr Boyd Elliott and will be supported by new deputy cabinet member Cllr Scott Carlton.
Speaking as he takes on the role just one year after he was first elected, Cllr Barney said improving supported home care will be one of his top ambitions.
Extra staffing was approved last year to help get people out of hospital and back into care, with backlogs in hospital discharges causing a strain on both the NHS and social care.
Just last month the authority increased its adult social care council tax precept by the maximum amount, three per cent, with NHS backlogs identified for some of the funding.
Cllr Barney says his main priority will be to speed up this process, but confirmed he wants to provide “person-centred” care in an environment where people are “supported and loved” by their communities.
“We’re very much about supporting people where they are,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“This is at their own home, in their communities and with their loved ones around them, and that is very much mine and this administration’s focus.
“Peoples’ needs are best served in the environment they know, where they have people around them to support them, and I will continue this focus where we can.
“Obviously there is always going to be the need for support in hospitals and specialist support will be needed, but where possible, we would like to provide all the support to people where they are.”
He added the council will be continuing to work alongside the NHS and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to speed up discharges from hospitals.
This will include working alongside Nottingham University Hospitals Trust (NUH) for its Tomorrow’s NUH programme, which will see new buildings built and the trust operating more efficiently.
“I see my role as dovetailing with that endeavour because I think that’s best for patient care,” he added.
However, Labour thinks the Conservative administration should be taking a different approach.
Cllr Paul Henshaw, Labour’s spokesperson for adult social care and a care worker himself, urged Cllr Barney to commit to paying all care workers a minimum of £10.50 an hour.
This was a policy suggested by the Labour Group during alternative budget proposals in February, which were voted down by the Conservatives.
And Cllr Henshaw also believes the Conservative leadership should be challenging the Government over its funding for social care.
He said: “The hike to National Insurance was badged up as a Health and Social Care levy, but in actual fact that money is going first to the NHS and care services don’t really know when or how much money they’ll eventually get from it – if any.
“Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire care homes continue to struggle to pay their overheads and utility bills due to the cost-of-living crisis.
“This means money for care home residents isn’t going entirely on their services or care, and a lot of care workers in Nottinghamshire themselves are on minimum wage zero-hours contracts, which explains the significant amount of care worker vacancies across the county.”
But Cllr Barney says the authority recognises the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis, with staff already tasked with assessing how rising inflation will impact the sector.
Social care is already one of the biggest financial burdens for all upper-tier councils in the UK, with rising costs for care and ongoing staffing issues taking their toll on service delivery.
“The cost-of-living crisis is going to touch us all and, of course, I’m concerned about that,” Cllr Barney said.
“Officers are already considering the implications of inflation on our services, and we’ve asked them to report back rapidly so we’re aware of any financial issues to arise from this.
“I hope we’re able to support people as well as we have – we’ll certainly be with them in the same way we have been during the pandemic years.
“We need to make sure every person in Nottinghamshire has the best outcomes possible within the resources we have.”
Cllr Barney’s remit also covers public health, and he adds another focus of his will be to address issues with homelessness in Nottinghamshire.
He is concerned about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households across the county and said he will look into how he can target the issue through his role.
Cllr Barney, who worked with homelessness charities and soup runs in his late teens, added: “Homelessness affects all areas of a person’s life and any improvement we can make to support with this is a joy to me.
“I’m also really thrilled about the Harm to Hope drugs policies the Government is mandating and that I’m walking in at a time when this is happening, with significant funding allocations being made available to support homelessness and drug rehabilitation services in Nottinghamshire.”
Cllr Barney will attend his first meeting as the adult social care portfolio holder when the new cabinet meets for the first time on May 26.