BBC feature on Discovery to air on 4th March

Discovery will be featured on BBC Inside Out at 7.30pm on Monday 4th March on BBC One West.

The 10-minute film will look at the experiences of some relatives and colleagues since Discovery began operating the Learning Disability service, which transferred from Somerset County Council in April 2017. It raises some issues that we’re working hard to resolve. We decided to offer a written statement to the BBC rather than an interview. We felt this was the best way to address the things they raised and not be misrepresented by the editing process. We have also offered live interviews.

From Day 1, Discovery has felt privileged to support people with learning disabilities in Somerset. We are totally committed to supporting people to have greater choice and control over their lives, a louder voice over their lives, better relationships, improved health and increased opportunities as equal citizens in their community. We have been through a period of significant change and, whilst we have tried hard to minimise the impact of this, it has not always been possible. The majority of the change has been completed and it’s now time to build on this and provide an even better service – one that helps all people with learning disabilities live a positive, fulfilled life.

We made specific responses to questions raised in the BBC’s letter, which are as follows:

“…long-serving staff members have left since Discovery took over, and inexperienced staff and agency personnel have replaced them…”

The restructure that was essential for the long-term sustainability of learning disability support in Somerset was completed in November 2018. This has led – unavoidably – to a greater temporary reliance on agency staff than we would like and we are working hard to redress this balance.

In the 3 months from November to January we received over 600 applications and made offers of employment to 93 people. Virtually all of our managerial positions are also filled.

“…some staff are not adequately qualified to deal with the complex needs of some clients, and they have not received adequate training.”

Discovery delivers a comprehensive programme of training to all colleagues, which is bespoke to the individual they will be supporting. Training is delivered both online and face to face according to the topic being communicated. Personal development for colleagues is continuous and does not stop at the induction that new colleagues receive when they join Discovery. Many Discovery colleagues have also benefitted from the national award winning development course we have introduced.

The experience of staff is important in our recruitment, as is recruiting people who share our values of integrity, ambition, respect, courage and partnership. It is also essential to us that people and their families play a central role in choosing their own support colleagues. This personalised selection takes time to get right but we are committed to giving the people we support choice and control.

“One relative said that some members of staff sent to carry out domiciliary services did not know how to use equipment like hoists safely”

All colleagues supporting people who require hoists are trained in their use.

“Discovery’s decision to restructure the service and remove some managerial positions means there is often a lack of supervision….”

 The new structure we have put in place follows established best practice and has been designed to make expectations, responsibility and accountability clearer. The restructure was only concluded in November and it will take some time for the changes to bed in. We are starting to see services work in the way that we aspire to but we accept this is not the case everywhere yet. We are working hard to address this.

“We have heard concerns from relatives and current and former members of Discovery staff about the safety of some of the people in your care…”

We take the safety of all those in our care extremely seriously and any issues raised with us are immediately and robustly investigated. We urge anyone with concerns to contact us directly. We have made some big changes to the way support in Somerset is run and we appreciate that change can be tough to adapt to for everyone – people we support, their families and our colleagues. With this process of change now complete, it’s time to look to the future, address concerns and focus on delivering better support based on national best practice and the specific needs of the people we support in Somerset.  

Although we cannot comment on individual cases, we can confirm that we have contacted each family member featured in the BBC film to have a conversation with Discovery’s MD, with a view to addressing the issues raised and apologising for the recent impact.

We treat all safeguarding incidents with the utmost seriousness. We follow national best practice in our approach to safeguarding including having an independent Chair of our safeguarding board, a former Chief Constable who also chairs the Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board.

“Relatives and staff we have spoken to say that the quality of learning disability services in Somerset has declined in the last two years….”

We have made some essential changes to the way services are delivered in Somerset. We appreciate this process has taken longer than we would have liked – and was only completed in November 2018. We are now focussed on building on this change and providing a high standard of support for all those who rely on us. Our mission remains to help people live fulfilled lives where they are happy and healthy and we are working hard to achieve this for everyone.

“Some say they have been informed that day services, such as those provided at Six Acres in Taunton, are being closed but that no replacement activity has yet been organised…”

Six Acres was an example of a traditional day centre. The new ‘Community Hub’ replacing Six Acres will be more central within Taunton. People we currently support at Six Acres will be able to access the hub, which has sensory space, a safe place and a changing places facility. It will be an ideal base from which people can use the rest of Taunton’s amenities: its shops, cafes, gardens and so on. We strongly believe that people with learning disabilities should be part of our communities, not segregated from them, and this move is a vital part of progressing that further.

“Relatives have told us that communication from Discovery management is poor…”

We accept that the way we communicate can always be better. We have offered face to face communication at events and one-to-one meetings. We have communicated news via our website, email and our social media channels. We have written personally to and have met with relatives affected by specific changes, such as the changes at Six Acres. We are responding to feedback that this is not adequate and, from January, the Managing Director of Discovery has been writing letters directly to all families with postal updates each month.

“Can you explain your policy around funding and your reserve/surplus?”

As a not-for-profit registered charity, we adhere to Charity Commission guidelines in terms of the surplus made and reserves we hold. This is vital to ensure the long-term stability of the complex and much needed services we provide. In line with this, we look to achieve a 2% surplus each year (any money left over once we have fully delivered on our contract with Somerset County Council). In addition, as an awarded Social Enterprise, half of our surplus is reinvested back into Somerset to improve county-wide support for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, or their families. The other half provides essential financial resilience to ensure we have a reserve to deal with unexpected occurrences without affecting the people we support.

By working hand-in-hand with all the people we support, their families, colleagues and the local community, we believe we can create an environment which not only improves the lives of people supported by Discovery, but all people with learning disabilities within Somerset.