AN INQUIRY into a social care policy decried last year as "possibly illegal and certainly immoral"  by the then leader of Wirral Council has ruled it was in fact perfectly acceptable.

In March 2012, Cllr Jeff Green said he had discovered evidence social services had been operating a deliberate policy of not acting as quickly as possible to introduce home care packages for vulnerable people.

The move was claimed to have been introduced to save money.

Revelations of the so-called “four week delay” system caused a public outcry.

Scores upon scores of angry and shocked readers contacted the Globe or left online comments when we broke the story.

Some had heart-rending accounts of how they and their families had been personally affected by holding up home care as a way of saving cash.

But now the inquiry by independent reviewer Rob Vickers has vindicated council officials and found the policy actually was “an appropriate and proportionate management initiative endorsed at branch and senior leadership team levels.”

In response to the clamour for action last March, a special telephone hot-line was set up in the town hall staffed by social care experts for relatives of elderly hospital patients who believed they had suffered as a result of the delays.

A letter of apology was sent by the council to carer James Robinson from Birkenhaed who was forced to watch his mother Esther slowly deteriorate after vital home help services were cut.

Mr Robinson’s mother passed away in September of 2009 but he was so moved by the letter of apology that he placed it at her graveside. 

Social services whistle-blowers said the delay to care packages had been kept a closely guarded secret.

Claims that it even existed had been denied on several occasions by council officials - but then Cllr Green revealed: "Minutes of a meeting have been unearthed that prove a decision was taken not to implement care packages immediately but to delay them for four weeks.

"I cannot begin to explain how angry I am at the length of time it has taken for this situation to come to light.

“After a series of denials from the Department of Adult Social Services, I am giving my personal guarantee that everyone who believes that they have been let down by the council will be given the opportunity to have their cases properly considered and dealt with."

He said this was yet more evidence of a "department in disarray" and that he was appointing an independent "ombudsman" to investigate.

But far from any idea the strategy might constitute an embarrassment to the council's care services, the investigation Cllr Green ordered has found the policy was “an appropriate and proportionate management initiative endorsed at branch and senior leadership team levels.”

The report, published on Wirral Council’s website, goes on: “Adult Social Services managers were endeavouring to respond in a responsible manner to demographic pressures and budgetary constraints that while in-year could equally be set against a backdrop of a recurring structural deficit.

“Advice afforded by Wirral officers would also indicate people were waiting for domiciliary care prior to the implementation of the four-week delay, which had lacked the rigour associated with the four-week delay allied to prioritisation, delegations and authorisations.

“In effect, the four-week delay introduced a managed process of managing demand for domiciliary care from independent sector providers.”

Mr Vickers ruled there was no secrecy about the strategy: "The four week delay was openly acknowledged and endorsed by the senior leadership team."

The consultant believes social services whistle-blowers may have misunderstood the reality of the situation: "The review has established a number of variances in relation to interpretation and understanding of how the four week delay was implemented and applied. 

"This arises because...the four week delay was applied by placing on-hold less urgent cases involving requests for domiciliary support from independent providers for four weeks before sourcing a support provider."

The reports says this is supported by the then interim director of Adult Social Services who in a letter dated August 31 2011 to one of the whistle-blowers stated: “I am satisfied from an operational point of view that there was no blanket delay and there is not now.

"There is, however, a process of prioritisation of cases and a target for completion that is well within the statutory guidance."