Council counts the cost of external care deal

Havering Council has lost at least £140,000 after a new deal with an external care company went wrong.

In 2019, a care company that the council has repeatedly refused to name took over the contract to care for Havering residents after they left hospital.

Sixteen staff expected to transfer to the new care provider decided not to do so – leaving the service short-handed.

The council therefore had to hire emergency help from elsewhere, which cost it “in excess of £100,000”, councillors were told.

The new care provider was also paid at least £42,000 for almost 5,000 hours of care that it did not deliver.

At a meeting of the council’s audit committee on October 28, councillors heard the team in charge of external contracts also rewrote the agreement with the new care company without informing council lawyers.

Jeremy Welburn, head of assurance, told the committee: “It was not the right process at all… we’re now correcting that to make sure procedures get escalated more quickly.

“Staff have been spoken to, if it were to happen again we would have to take the matter more formally.”

Chief operating officer Jane West said the two staff teams still disagree over whether the money, that has not been recovered, was “legitimately spent”.

She added: “The reason they are saying they didn’t actually go to legal was because it was an urgent situation and there would have been disruption in service.”

As part of a report given to the committee, the commissioning team’s management said “thinking and awareness” about when to speak to the legal team will be “reinforced and further embedded”.

They added: “This service is essential for the continuous flow of people from hospitals. If this flow stops or is interrupted at any point then beds start to block in the hospital.

“The situation that arose in 2019 threatened this flow and the remedies were designed to minimise detrimental impact.

“This does not excuse the fact that there should have been a dialogue with the legal and procurement department to explain the planned approach and to get assurance that we were not opening ourselves up to unnecessary risk, to assure us that remedies were the best possible and that appropriate governance routes were followed.”

A spokesperson for Havering Council confirmed that no one went without care during that time.

However, they have not responded to repeated requests for the name of the new care provider.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter