Waiting times fall for home help assessments - but are some adapted properties going to waste?

Occupational therapists assess what help people need to continue living independently.
Occupational therapists assess what help people need to continue living independently.

The waiting list in Lancashire for people needing an occupational therapy assessment has dropped by almost two thirds in just over a year.

In March 2018, more than 1,300 people were waiting to be seen by a therapist – who decides what help they need to continue living independently – compared to just under 500 by August this year.

The figures were revealed at a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s performance improvement committee, which heard that a target has been set to carry out all occupational therapy assessments within a maximum of 28 days. Currently, the longest wait in the county council area is 15 weeks – but urgent cases are completed within an average of seven days.

Therapists assess whether an individual needs specialist equipment to enable them to stay in their own home. Basic items such as modified toilet seats are issued by a prescription which can be redeemed at certain outlets, while more specialist equipment like hoists is loaned out for as long as it is required.

The service also determines whether a person is eligible to have minor adaptations carried out in their home – up to the value of £1,000 – or more extensive modifications, funded by a pot of money known as the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), which is means tested and administered by district councils.

The shortened waiting list for assessments has resulted in the number of cases referred for DSG funding almost quadrupling between 2014 and 2018.

Cabinet member for adult services, Graham Gooch, welcomed the improved performance – and the introduction of greater freedom in decision-making.

“Things do not have to be referred up all the time – if somebody carrying out home improvement work sees something else which needs doing, they just do it,” he said.

Committee member Carl Crompton called for a register of adapted properties within the social housing sector to reduce the time people spend waiting in hospital for a suitable place to which they can be discharged.

“If a person vacates a property, it is then gutted and put back to its original state. Rather than wasting all that equipment and throwing it into a skip , that property could be put onto a list to see if there is anybody in the vicinity waiting to come out of hospital who it could be offered to,” County Cllr Crompton said.

Deputy council leader Keith Iddon pledged to investigate whether such a system could be set up, but County Cllr Gooch warned that consideration also had to be given to other family members who may still be living in the property.

Head of social care services, Sue Lott, added that the authority always sought to prevent people staying in hospital longer than necessary.

“Some people [may need] a short stay in residential care [during any adaptation work]. But for low level adaptations, we’ll take every opportunity to support people in their home while that adaptation is done,” Ms. Lott said.

The equipment provided by DSG funds has been standardised across Lancashire and eight districts now have discretion to fund lower value items without means testing the recipients. The previous maximum threshold for DSG-funded equipment of £30,000 can also now be lifted where it is deemed necessary.

Members heard that the number of occupational therapists employed by the council doubled to 40 two years ago – paid for out of the £46m in extra social care cash allocated to the county by the government between 2017 and 2019, a pot of money known as the Improved Better Care Fund.