With the government recently announcing their plan for health and social care, Build Back Better, it is a timely moment to write about quality. The plan itself states that we must reform adult social care and create a new integrated system focussed on improving outcomes for our people. Health and social care systems will be brought more closely together – so that people are cared for in the most appropriate place for their needs, whether at hospital, in care or at home.

Whilst support is promised to achieve this, it will be interesting to see how things develop. In the meantime, we as a sector will continue to be challenged by a lack of funding, resources, people and the aftermath of the pandemic. What has been encouraging over the last 18 months is the renewed strength of the relationship between the commissioner and provider, as well as the sector continuing to adopt technology solutions.

Technology provides so much opportunity, and the area that is currently piquing my interest is data and market insight to drive quality. I’m working with Local Authorities who are utilising data in new ways to empower their decision-making and bring improvements to their service.

We all collect data, and we all have access to a multitude of statistics and figures. As a sector though, we don’t always utilise this to its full potential. We need to stop collecting data for the sake of it and turn this gold dust into intelligence. Going into the future, sharing data has to be key and when we are faced with market insight that is understood, this can in turn change the perception of uncertainty to effective decision making.

As The Care Act states, Local Authorities have a duty to shape and maintain an efficient and effective market for meeting care and support needs in a local area. In order to fulfil its duty to promote diversity and quality in service provision the Local Authority must ensure it has effective strategies to shape the marketplace and commission the right services. It is crucial to accurately predict future demand for services and the impact this has on budgets, and the relationship with providers, to stimulate the market and meet demand.

We know from our close working partnerships with commissioners and directors, that Local Authorities are all at very different stages of their data collecting journey. Some have employed business analysts and have a sound data strategy with a clear vision of how this data will support their market insight, others are perhaps not even at strategy stage and wondering where to begin.

At a recent webinar only 4% of our attendees felt they were successfully able to understand future demand for social care services. This low figure was very much connected to market insight and a lack of knowledge about the data they hold. So how can we effectively plan and budget if we are unsure on probable future trends and demands?

The pandemic has highlighted social care in many ways, and one of these has been the ongoing risk to the market. As Local Authorities look at their commissioning models, perhaps now more than ever there needs to be the shift from price to quality. Austerity has somewhat forced the commissioning model to be built on low-cost delivery, and this can result in negative market issues, focussed on competitive tendering, rather than outcomes.

The SCIE also suggest that there should be this shift towards quality, commenting, “It’s a good time to re-think commissioning, to learn together and move forward. Good practice must be spread to move beyond the current postcode lottery of choice for local citizens. That will mean commissioners using and sharing evidence about what is working elsewhere to gain improvement ideas.” The future of commissioning for social care, January 2021 (https://www.scie.org.uk/care-providers/coronavirus-covid-19/commissioning/future-of-commissioning-social-care)

Recognising market trends enables Local Authorities to visualise data and reveal true insight. It provides up to date market intelligence for stakeholders, quality and contract managers, heads of commissioning and directors. When we talk about ‘market insight’ that includes a wide range of variables including population and demand, spend and activity, capacity and availability and quality and risk. It’s this knowledge that enables commissioners to shift their social care delivery model. Accurate quality and contract management approaches are key components in the rising move towards community-based services, highlighting trends and demand modelling.

Having a consistent and standardised approach to quality auditing can and will support providers to establish things that are working well and areas where improvement is needed. Working together, with a wider view of the market, will, in turn, form stronger partnerships and deliver positive outcomes for the community.

Ben Chance – Head of PAMMS, HAS Technology

HAS Technology are welcome sponsors of ADASS which furthers our charitable objectives.