What would happen if we were to stop all form filling?


By Leon A Smith
February 24, 2012
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This week I had a visit from somebody who has been asked on behalf of the government to look at how we can cut through red tape and bureaucracy in the care sector. It is very much part of the wider initiative of government to look generally at how bureaucracy can be cut. The visit had the effect of focussing me on just how much bureaucracy as a charity providing care for older people we are involved with. I am able to confirm that this is a not inconsiderable amount! It seems that red tape, form filling and the provision of data is growing expotentially. In every direction we are required to provide more and more information. This is because the care sector (quite rightly) is a heavily regulated sector and we are answerable to a national regulator who is fully entitled to ask for a considerable amount of information regarding our activities. We are also answerable to the Charity Commissioners as a charity, the Health & Safety Executive, to numerous local authorities who procure care on behalf of residents, to the utility companies and to many other such organisations. Since no two organisations require the data they are asking for in exactly the same form, all of the bodies insist that the information required coincides with their own template.

If one were sceptical – which of course I am not – one would almost believe that some local authorities tend to use form filling and bureaucracy as a weapon. I will expand! Increasingly local authorities, as readers will have heard me say previously in these columns, are putting more and more pressure on providers of care to reduce the fees which they are paying even for existing residents. The recent ploy is for a local authority to make a unilateral statement that they are cutting what they are paying by say 5%. Following lengthy correspondence, they helpfully comment “if you would be kind enough to complete the attached (extremely detailed and intrusive) form regarding your costs then we might consider instead of reducing what we are paying you, freezing it” - albeit in a climate of nearly 4% inflation!. My feeling is that possibly some local authorities are of the view that there will be those that simply cannot be bothered to complete these templates and will just roll over and accept a decrease.

Form filling and red tape is insidious – it’s everywhere. It’s creeping. It’s getting worse not better. It’s invaded all parts of our society and it is now so endemic it is difficult to see how the creation of “cutting red tape tzars” will make the slightest bit of difference. We live in an age where form filling and the provision of information has become a way of life. It never should have got to this stage but given that it has, it’s now going to be extremely difficult to roll it back. Why is it that we have reached this stage? Part of it I believe started with the pensions industry and then the financial fiasco following the demise of Maxwell and the realisation of just what he had done with so many innocent people’s pensions. Other areas such as health and education probably came about as a consequence of years of under-regulation which subsequently resulted in increased regulation and now in many cases over-regulation. How do we evaluate how worthwhile all of this form filling and information provision is? What is the value in a nurse or a teacher or a legal aid lawyer having to spend a significant proportion of their time sitting down writing and filling in forms. The answer is there is no scientific way of evaluating this!

Sometimes when an older person transfers to a new doctor, the doctor may take a view that many of the medications which they have been taking probably for much of their adult life are actually having no affect at all. One drastic way of dealing with this is to stop all medications to see what happens. Could there be a parallel possibility here! What would happen if we were to stop all form filling? Would the world come to an end?

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