While the public may be aware that the government inspects health and social care services through an organisation called Care Quality Commission, what is less know is that as well as full time qualified inspectors, the organisation also uses people with experience of using services to inspect services along side these inspectors, known as Experts by Experience, which I will refer to as experts.
Experts are service users and carers, where carers are family members of users, who are paid to assist inspectors during inspections as it is required to ensure the inspections are more rounded. So far, this all sounds great although there is a sting in the tail.
I have been hired as an expert myself since April last year, which is also great, although I have so far not received any work. I had half put this down to my reputation amongst other things, that was until I attended a regional training and development day last week for experts where I discovered a picture I was unhappy with.
The picture was a room filled with about 15 experts plus the 'trainers', this was one of four rooms repeating the same picture. Three of the experts had physical impairments including myself, one had mental health issues and the rest (11) were carers. In discovering our experiences of the last 12 months, I found out that all the experts with physical impairments had received no work while carers seemed to have been getting 3 inspections a month! The expert with mental health issues only seemed to be getting work because they were working with their mother!
Now, call me paranoid but this looks pretty suspicious? The official explanation seems to be that experts can only inspect the type of services they have used and there are very little services specifically for people with physical impairments. And this is my concern, carers only have an 'associated' experience of services through the users they support, so why can't experts with physical impairments use their 'associated' experience in inspecting other services?
The reality is many social care services are self-funded by families/carers to look after their 'loved ones', making them the real customers, so why not have a bias towards Expert carers? But carers will always have their own perspective and agenda in any issue from service users and therefore they can not automatically be seen as the voice of service users. If inspections are supposed to be about protecting the welfare of consumers/users, then there should be a bias towards expert users!
I fear this discovery is a part of a wider bias by the government towards carers over users. The carer's movement has been very successful in providing the assumption that 'carers save the government money' in a way users can not match, and therefore it is clear that this may give them the upper hand when it comes to social care policy.
My concern is that many organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on carers as the voice of users individually and collectively, assuming they always have the best interests in mind, which can not logically be possible. This can only lead to bigger problems for another generation to uncover before even starting to resolve.
I am not against carers, I merely wish them to be provided the same level of trust/distrust as other stakeholders in the lives of individuals, so it is concerning when the government appears to believe 'they know best'.