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Support for vulnerable adults in the Western Isles has important areas of weakness and is in need of substantial improvement, according to a report issued today (Friday 24 March).

The damning report identifies critical failings, significant weaknesses in practice, outdated guidelines, ineffective collaboration and a lack of management oversight throughout the system.

The social work department, as the lead agency, is singled out because ‘they did not evidence that they fulfilled their statutory duties.’

The Western Isles adult protection partnership, which includes health, local authority, police and voluntary sector representatives, was subject to scrutiny as part of a national audit which will lead to a report to Scottish Government.

Vulnerable adults are defined as people over 16 years old who are unable to safeguard their own interests and are at risk of harm because they are affected by disability, mental disorder, illness, physical or mental infirmity. Harm means all harm including self-harm and neglect.

The focus of the inspection report was on whether adults at risk of harm in the Western Isles partnership area were safe, protected and supported.

The joint inspection by the Care Inspectorate, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and Healthcare Improvement Scotland began on 17 October 2022 and concludes today (24 March).

Inspectors scrutinised the records of adults at risk of harm for a two-year period, 17 October 2020 to 17 October 2022 and asked questions of 66 health, social work, police and other staff engaged in supporting adults at risk of harm in the islands.

Inspectors identified 39 adults at risk of harm whose cases didn’t progress beyond initial inquiries, and 18 adults whose cases had moved to investigation stage.

In investigating these cases and the overall system, they concluded that adult support and protection services had important areas of weakness and that there were substantial areas for improvement.

The report said: “The partnership had a vision and improvement plan to support the delivery of adult support and protection. However, the vision needed strengthened amongst staff, and the improvement plan did not take account of recent audit findings.

“The partnership had responded to the demands of the pandemic well. Yet, strategic leadership for adult support and protection was lacking.

“Governance frameworks had not identified the significant weaknesses present in practice. Collaborative working in adult support and protection, both operationally and strategically, was ineffective and did not support the effective delivery of key processes.

“Both the chief officers’ group and adult protection committee required to significantly improve their communication and oversight arrangements.

“Adult support and protection practice in Western Isles was underpinned by the Multi-agency Procedures and Guidelines (2016). This procedure was seven years old and did not support the effective delivery of adult support and protection processes.

“There were critical failings at each key stage of the adult support and protection process. In many instances social work, as the lead agency, did not evidence that they fulfilled their statutory duties.

“The processes for robust decision-making lacked system resilience, support, and effective management oversight.

“Adults at risk of harm and their unpaid carer were insufficiently involved and engaged in operational practice and there were opportunities to further involve them in strategic adult support and protection.

“Overall, there were many key areas for improvement identified across key processes and strategic leadership. These critically impacted on the experiences and outcomes for adults at risk of harm and need urgently addressed.”

The Western Isles partnership has been asked to prepare an improvement plan to address priority areas for improvement and the Care Inspectorate, Healthcare Improvement Scotland and HMICS will monitor progress implementing the plan.