Screening

is the name given to the very first stage of the community care process, for individual people, after a referral has been received or made.

~Screening~ is not mentioned in statute, but is plainly implicit in the wording of the assessment function itself, because assessment under s47 NHSCCA is not automatic – it is only required to be done in relation to people who pass a very low threshold test for a right to be formally assessed – and that threshold question has to be considered via some process or another – this is ‘screening’.

Up to the year 2001 there was nothing other than fairly old policy and practice guidance for authorities, from central government, and of course case law, to help service users, carers or anyone involved in care management to know what an assessment required, in order to count as an assessment. Authorities were entitled to make up their own minds as to what would be appropriate, so systems differ around the country. This discretion, however, was always subject to reasonableness, in the sense that a system of allocating services on the basis of say, weight or hair colour would obviously be ridiculous, given the context in which the assessment would be done – that of deciding who gets what, by way of social care services. Whilst generally not this bizarre, some authorities’ assessment processes have been so superficial in the past, that it may have been possible to allege in a legal context that they were not capable of amounting to ‘assessment’. But so far as screening is concerned, the big legal issues have always been in what circumstances is it lawful simply to ‘screen’ a person referred to social services, then reject the client as ineligible for assessment, and signpost the client on to other agencies who might be able to help? and secondly, on what grounds can a client be said to be ineligible for assessment, given the breadth of the statutory duty to assess, once the statutory threshold test is passed?

Since 2001, the government has issued guidance called Fair Access to Care Services which impacts on assessment processes and eligibility criteria. Furthermore, guidance about the government’s vision of ‘single’ assessment (the avoidance of duplication in interviewing and recording as between health and social services and other agencies in the community) has been issued, which will change the emphasis in screening procedures, as well as with regard to assessment proper.

 

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