St Helens Council deputy leader says some families in need are 'falling in black holes'

CounSue Murphy
CounSue Murphy

Some families in need of support who live near neighbouring towns are “falling in black holes”, the deputy leader of St Helens Council has warned.

Coun Sue Murphy, cabinet member for balanced development and economic opportunity, raised the issue at cabinet this week as members approved the council’s new early help strategy.

Early help is where support is provided to families before they reach crisis, and involves working together and with parents’ permission, sharing information to help provide a tailored plan.

The council’s early help strategy will contribute to the integrated response to manage the challenges of increasing costs and demand through the development of St Helens Cares, the council’s new integrated care system.

On Wednesday, Coun Murphy asked how St Helens services was linking with out-of-borough health facilities used by families who live in bordering areas such as Billinge and Newton-le-Willows.

Coun Murphy said there have been instances in the past where people have “fallen through the net” and sought assurances families would be picked up by St Helens services.

The Labour councillor said there are people “falling in black holes” and sought assurances the strategy would help tackle this.

“I don’t expect every GP in the country to know what our services provide,” Coun Murphy said.

“But I do expect when there’s St Helens residents and they are living on the border and accessing other services then coming back in and not being picked up by ours – I think that does need addressing.”

Professor Sarah O’Brien, the council’s strategic director of people’s services, said a lot of work has been carried out around border issues in the past 18 months.

She said in theory, issues around the border should not be as prevalent as they have been historically due to systems and processes that are now in place.

Prof O’Brien, who is also the clinical accountable officer for St Helens CCG, said: “We’ve done a lot of work to minimise the impact of the border issues.

“But I am using words like minimise because there’s always going to be a little bit of a challenge.”

The CCG chief said the local authority has not received any recent complaints around border issues but acknowledged this does not mean they are not still arising.

Prof O’Brien added: “I suspect we’ll always have the odd person slipping through the net, but what it shouldn’t be is a black hole.

“It shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. If it is happening regularly, I think that’s what we need to know.”