All health and care commissioners should demand social value

This is my blog to support the launch of the Joint VCSE Review’s new action plan. I have also written a piece for HSJ with Glen Garrod of ADASS and Rob Webster of South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Trust.

“We welcome the new action plan from the Joint VCSE Review, which has set out an important vision in which voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations work with the NHS to co-design and co-deliver health and care services with local people. The action plan has a strong focus on greater use of Social Value Act powers by health and care commissioners which enables commissioners to seek added social value from local providers and more value for public money in partnership with charits and community groups. Use of the Act should be more routine in health commissioning.”

Simon Stevens, CEO, NHS England.

What do voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations want from government and the NHS? Ask our statutory partners and many will say, “money” and then add “but we don’t have any!” The first part of that is true, of course. The VCSE sector can often manage with less money than other kinds of organisation, because it is often better at drawing on different kinds of resources as well: people’s freely given time, support from local community and businesses, use of community resources. But all organisations working in health and social care, whether statutory, private or not for profit, need money to run. The difference between statutory and voluntary organisations is not their need for money, it is that typically statutory organisations control that money, and VCSE organisations do not.

Two years ago the Joint VCSE Review held a full consultation with the VCSE sector and its partners, and produced a report and 28 recommendations based on what we found. We heard that VCSE did not want to be in the position of asking for money: they wanted to share responsibility for the resources available, and to help people who use public services to share that responsibility. When statutory organisations and commissioners say ‘there’s no money!’ they have often started with the assumption that they must keep spending the money they have on what they already do. Local people, particularly from groups and communities who are not well-served by current services, can take a different view, if they have the opportunity to take part in genuine decision-making (as opposed to being ‘engaged’ and ‘consulted’ by decision-makers reluctant to give up any real power). So our key message was that, if we are serious about community-based, community-owned health and care services, which both expect and ask more of citizens, we need to get serious about co-designing those services with the people who make most use of them. VCSE organisations are the only ones with any track record of doing that. The fact that co-design and coproduction are still seen as slow, difficult and optional, rather than essential to improvement and tackling inequalities, is a good indicator of how much current commissioning teams need their voluntary counterparts and the communities they reach.

King’s Fund research commissioned in response to the Joint Review found a clear distinction between commissioners who co-commission and those who see their VCSE partners as there to provide the services designed without their input. So our new action plan’s three actions include co-design becoming a core expectation, with commissioners recognising that some of their scarce resources could usefully be invested in user-led and grassroots groups which are their only viable routes to the people with whom they need to co-design the future. As areas start to co-design in that way, as pioneers like Greater Manchester are already doing, they are hearing a clear demand for health and social care services which help people to live well and to remain independent and resilient in the face of long term health conditions, so our other two actions are to embed wellbeing as a shared goal for health and care services, and to enable local leaders to commission, demand and pay for wellbeing and resilience. We heard from the sector about the need for tools to be freely available to small local organisations, not just to large organisations with research and evaluation budgets. And we were excited by the promising examples of social prescribing and other approaches which, when done well, enable commissioners to work with intermediary local bodies to get their resources effectively to the full range of VCSE organisations. We argued in our original report that fund should always be on a ‘simplest by default’ basis, avoiding expensive, time-consuming and overly bureaucratic processes which are often evidence of a lack of understanding of what the VCSE can bring, rather than reflections of any real regulatory imperative.

Our action plan, which has been adopted by the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, is an attempt to bridge the statutory and voluntary worlds. That bridge will enable people to travel more freely between their lives at home in the community and the world of service support which can too often be inaccessible. One tangible way to bridge between the values of the VCSE sector and what the statutory sector will place a value on, would be to use routinely the existing Social Value Act powers, which allow commissioners to demand social value such as use of volunteers, or employment of people with lived experience, from all of their contracts. Jon Rouse says, “The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership based our working relationship with the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector on the recommendations from the Joint VCSE Review, which included that statutory and voluntary agencies should work together with local people to co-design better health and care services. We welcome the new VCSE action plan and expect to lead the way in using the Social Value Act powers routinely in our health and care contracting, to get the best value possible from public funds.”

Bridging between those two worlds means building from both sides, so I want to end with a challenge to my own sector. It’s not enough for us to talk about our community roots: we need to demonstrate that they are still strong and healthy. If we are to share in the power that goes with co-owning health and care systems and their resources, we must also be willing to share responsibility. The inequality of our current public services, and their outcomes, was the strongest message we heard during our consultation. As voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations we need to look hard at our practices and the way we make decisions ourselves, to be sure that we are part of the solution to that injustice.

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Launch day

After four years of writing, editing and re-editing, my book is finally published today, and launches in London thanks to the generosity of Nesta who are hosting the event, at which NHS CEO Simon Stevens is also speaking. We’re going to lose some out of town attendees to the snow, but so far London’s transport system seems to be holding up fine and we’re going ahead. If you are not able to be there, there will be a live stream from just before 6pm on this page of the Nesta website. The stream will then stay on that page. Here is the beginning of my blog on the Policy Press website about the book:

The NHS was designed in the 1940s for brief encounters: healing us or fixing us up. It often does that astonishingly well. But now 15 million of us (most of us at some point during our lives) live with long-term conditions; three million with multiple long-term conditions. We cannot be healed or fixed, we can only live well, drawing on state support relatively little, or live badly, drawing on state support heavily and falling repeatedly into crisis. That long term, increasing reliance on intensive support services is not only likely to feel miserable to us as individuals and families, it drives long term financial meltdown which will bankrupt our service economies, even if they survive the current period of austerity.

So we need a different relationship between people with long term conditions, their families and the services they turn to for help. But health and care leaders continue to talk and plan as if the health and care system was fixable by streamlining what we currently do, integrating various kinds of organisation, or making better use of tech. This is because, whether we use public services, work in them, or lead them, we remain locked into seeing people who need support as illnesses, impairments, problems, risks, not as people who can and must share at least some of the responsibility for their own wellbeing. We do not recognise that people who live for years or decades can become more expert in what works for their wellbeing than many of the professionals who necessarily dip in and out of their lives. Family carers provide more care than the state, but even they are not recognised as vital members of a wider caring team, who might need knowledge, training, equipment and emergency back up just as much as their paid colleagues.

To unpick this [carry on reading the blog and also Edward’s Shared Lives story here].

Once upon a time

Florence and Alexandra share Florence’s house. Their 70 year age gap and the warmth of their friendship captured people’s imaginations: 18 million people so far who have viewed a 2 minute film. Following Homeshare’s inclusion in a report on intergenerational approaches by our friends at United for All Ages, they told their story on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Homeshare is on the radar like never before and people are talking about the scourge of loneliness as far away as Canada. We’ve been on numerous national media channels and approached by potential partners, a funder, politicians and even a possible celebrity supporter.

Stories have never had so much power to change the world. A single person’s story can reach millions in moments. A single story can become scores, then hundreds of stories, then a social movement, almost overnight. It can mark the point at which a whole society changes how it thinks and feels about some of the most fundamental aspects of life: the way we relate to each other, the way power is distributed and used.

Meanwhile, the economic forces of our modern world can feel as pitiless as they ever had, excluding increasing numbers of us from the jobs, or housing, or education we need for a good life.

In recent months and years, we have seen our political systems, with all their supporting apparatus of bureaucracies and services, fail to manage and control both those kinds of forces. Social movements, based in people’s life experiences and how they feel about things, have caused election upsets and ended powerful careers. Those forces have shifted politics rapidly rightwards in some places and rapidly leftwards in others. Globalised economic forces have changed the housing and career expectations of a whole generation. Brexit could be read as the clash between economic prosperity as measured at a national level, and many people’s dissatisfaction with how they felt about their own life stories, their own power within that globalised economy.

Nowhere are the economics of modern life more brutal than in the economies of our long term care and support services. Nowhere is there a greater gap between the national stories government can tell about increased funding and people’s personal stories of greater crises and vanishing support. The translation of those stories into a social movement could be moments away. Everyone connected with public services is worried about them collapsing under the economic pressures of austerity. Those pressures are exacerbated in some parts of the system by the ability of large corporations to continue to extract profits from even the most broken economic models. It is equally likely though, in my view, that what breaks the settlement we have between voters and welfare state is a social movement, born out of personal stories of unacceptable care, miserable living, or unacceptable working conditions.

Our public service systems and organisations could not be less well prepared for that possibility. The courage and determination of the Justice for LB campaign, and others like it, have started to show us what can happen when people refuse to have their individual experiences dismissed by those who seem to feel the immediate interests of public service organisations are more important than the welfare of the people those organisations were set up to serve.

There is a chasm between what the public are told their public services are there to do, and far too many people’s experiences of them. We have a choice: to bridge that chasm or see our public services tumble into it.

Can we escape the invisible asylum?

Since their origins in the Poor Laws, our ideas about helping people have been tangled up with feelings about excluding or punishing them. To become the subject of state support was once to cross a physical threshold: the gates of the workhouse, lunatic asylum or long-stay ‘hospital’ for disabled people. Many of those thresholds have disappeared into folk-memory, but the idea of separating people into those who are citizens of their communities, and those who are wards of the state, remains threaded through our health, care and support services, in ways which have become so familiar they are invisible.

The rules and assumptions of the invisible asylum can be felt in ‘community’ services which feel nothing like community. They start with assessments and means tests which challenge people to prove their level of need, often at the cost of believing in their independence. They are felt in approaches that treat families who have managed on their own for years, as though they are capable only of being ‘difficult’ for the very services which ignored them before they reached crisis point.

This is not to decry the value of our underfunded and undervalued public services. But for our welfare state to survive, we need to be able to see it clearly: the miracles our services can achieve in the operating theatre and their small, devastating failures to see the person underneath the patient’s gown. There was a time when most of us could ignore those failures, hoping that we wouldn’t find ourselves in need of state support, or would need it only for a brief period which we prefer not to think about. But now we live longer lives, with longer periods of ill health, frailty or social isolation. Whether those years – and in many cases decades – in which we need state support will amount to a good life is not solely in the gift of GPs, surgeons or social workers. It depends for most of us on the relationships we have with everyone we rely on: our family and friends, alongside people paid to help us.

So we need models of community support which focus as much on ‘community’ as ‘support’. Working for nearly eight years with the remarkable people involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare has brought into perspective for me the inability of many services to escape the asylums of their origins. I have also witnessed supportive relationships which do not sacrifice the social for the care, which recognise interdependence is as important as independence, and that caring is an emotion before it is an activity.

In my forthcoming book, A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum (Policy Press, February 2018) I outline a possible health and care system which would take the ethos and practices of asset-based and community-orientated support models and build a system and a sustainable economics around them. A system which would demand, measure and pay for the goals – wellbeing, resilience, confident households – we all agree we want, but seem to accept we cannot have. The people who currently shape services have proved themselves incapable of designing approaches to achieve those more human goals. They can only be co-designed with the people who make long term use of services, their families and workers. They would offer us more but would only work if we were prepared to have more asked of us in return.

Those services would be organised at a more personal scale, perhaps eventually eschewing the traditional idea of an organisation entirely, so the book focuses as much on what needs scaling down to human size, as on scaling up the innovations of which we need more. It starts with those failures we should see as inexcusable, yet ignore or dismiss, but it is rooted in the belief that we can and do care for each other, and that the only future for our public services is to create spaces in which people with support needs, families and front line workers can have the relationships we would all wish to have.

You can order A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum from the Policy Press. To register to attend the launch at Nesta on 28 Feb, which has done so much to support our work, click here. The Northern launch event with Greater Manchester’s Chief Officer Jon Rouse is at MetroPolis on 20th March.

Stroke survivor Brian gets ready to move on

This story from Shared Lives South West shows how Shared Lives is providing great health care as well as social care. The story can be found here. It’s a great contrast with the story about room renting which hit the headlines last week – see my previous blog. We are working with NHS England and 7 local NHS CCGs to develop new health care options. Here is an extract from the full story with thanks to Shared Lives South West, who continue to inspire us all:

If you rewind a year, Brian Lee’s future looked bleak. While out walking in local woods he had a stroke and ended up in intensive care and endured a four-month hospital stay.
His health deteriorated further while in hospital as he also suffered two minor heart attacks and Brian was extremely weak.

The medical trauma left him with complete memory loss and his mobility was severely compromised- making it difficult for him to walk even short distances.

Fast forward to now and his life couldn’t be more different.  Thanks to the support and care he’s received from the Shared Lives team and ultimately his Shared Lives carers Jeanette and Alan Eames as well as his own determination, Brian is well on the road to recovery.

He’s recently managed to plan and go on holiday to Thailand and is preparing to move out to his own flat and live independently.

“I was so stubborn and determined. I had to prove to myself that I can still do things,” said Brian.

“Jeanette and Alan have helped me through it all. I was decrepit feeble creature when I arrived at their home in March.

“I couldn’t walk down the drive, now I can nip up to town. I never dreamt of being so independent again when I came out hospital.

Since moving in with the Eames’ family, near Okehampton, they have been there to support him every step of the way-  from helping him with appointments to liaising with his friends to help him move forward and sorting his medication and preparing him for his trip to Thailand, where he visited with no support. It was paramount his carers got him ready for the trip and made sure he was able to manage all his medication.

The Shared Lives team were also on hand to make the match with the Eames family. They charity’s Funding and Benefits team also maximised his benefits.

“They prepared me and made me ready for life outside,” said Brian.

“I think what was most important to me was to realise limitations early on, then I think you have to scale back on your expectations, then you can move forward positively.
“The main help was with my medication, that was a key thing. With Jeanette’s help there were visits to the doctors to make sure my balance of medication was right, as when I came out of hospital it was all wrong.

“I was on knock-out drops, I wasn’t living life as it should be. By 11am I wanted to go back to sleep again. I spent most of my time just sleeping. It was too much and there was a real temptation not to take them.

“Jeanette got it sorted out for me.”

“I also made sure he was taking the right medication at the right times to start. Now he has pots and has hang of doing it all himself,” said Jeanette.

Banking also became difficult as he struggled to remember numbers.

“If you ask me about a phone number or bank details and I wouldn’t have a clue,” he said.

With advise from Jeanette, they decided to change passwords to key dates that he could remember.

“That way I could do somethings myself with support,” said Brian.

The full story is here.

The need for a Slow Policy movement

(I was not aware when writing this blog of this 2005 paper by Peter Bates which has a similar theme and which draws on In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore, also new to me. Some ideas percolate, well, slowly.)

There is a slow food movement, which began in Italy, based on the belief that fast food lacks real nourishment and flavour and that its intensive production methods and short cuts are unsustainable for the environment within which it is grown and produced. Slow food is produced with time, care and the understanding of local culture, farming and ecology which can only be developed over years, or even generations. It tends to value small-scale production for its sustainability and for being rooted in community and place.

At present, government and the NHS express the importance of a policy change through the urgency of the deadlines they set themselves and their partners and the amount of money they can ‘find’ in an emergency to fund the change. NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), in which every area was required to set out how its health system would transform itself to survive the current resource crisis and become sustainable, were clearly important, and therefore urgent. So, most were drafted by small groups of very senior people, who regretted they had not the time nor resources to engage widely, particularly with charities, grassroots groups and people with lived experience who are the most complex and time-consuming to find and talk to. It is no surprise that STPs, despite many containing necessary and pragmatic ideas, have been widely reported by the media as ‘secret NHS cuts plans’.

This cycle of crisis, frenzied activity and shallow changes is endlessly repeated. The urgency turns out to be illusory every time: whilst a report will be rushed out in months, underlying causes of problems will remain unaddressed for years. STPs are morphing into the next set of initials whilst the NHS and social care continue to go bust.

We need a slow policy movement in our public services: a new norm for how to create change. No more flurries of reports and plans from the same group of highly paid people, who remain embedded in group-think. No more heroic leaders on a mission to fix things.

Instead, the slow policy approach would be to cultivate different people and networks which are more deeply-rooted in the lives and service cultures of those affected: people with lived experience, their families and front line workers, who all need training, preparation and a slower pace in order to contribute meaningfully. A change programme would examine the problem or challenge from the point of view of people use services, families, front line workers and people who do not or cannot currently access the service. The conversations with them will start with “What does a good life look like?” not “How can we improve, cut or close replace our service?” The questions will include, “What are you willing to contribute to achieving the goal we all agree is important?” (which is a different question to “Will you pay for our service?”, or “Will you volunteer for us?”)

In place of short term pilots generating tentative findings, new models should be implemented on a small scale but with a plan to scale them up incrementally if they appear to be working, until they replace the current system. As my colleagues in Local Area Coordination say, ‘move slowly, to move fast’. With people who use services genuinely involved in their design and delivery, we would finally have the confidence to remove resources from models which do not work, rather than continuing to resource the status quo, regardless of how much more effective new models proved.

What could be

Finally, social care is being recognised by our political leaders as vital to our nation’s health and wellbeing. All parties now recognise that ordinary people can be called upon to pay vast amounts towards their care, in contrast to our free-at-the-point-of-need NHS. There is public recognition of what social care is, for the first time. But now we need to visualise what it could be.

Our annual State of Shared Lives Sector reports give a glimpse of a possible future. They have consistently shown that Shared Lives is growing in England, and now we have evidence of new growth in all four home nations. They have also highlighted the difference Shared Lives makes to people’s lives. Many people who might otherwise have lived on their own or in a care home are finding a settled home with their chosen Shared Lives household. Meanwhile, a new group of older people and others who live with their families, but need regular overnight or daytime breaks, get those breaks from visiting their chosen Shared Lives carer, often matched with them because they both enjoy the same activities, rather than struggling with the stress and disruption which more institutionalised breaks services can bring. People live well and sometimes achieve the impossible.

This year our annual report for England (as reported in Community Care) paints both an encouraging and concerning picture. In previous years, Shared Lives has grown strongly, despite the cuts which are shrinking all other forms of social care. The net growth has been about 1000 additional people per year. This year, the number of people using Shared Lives in England has grown by around 580, to just under 12,000 people, around half of whom are living with their Shared Lives carer, and the other half are split between short breaks and daytime support. Look at the numbers of people using Shared Lives by region, however, and it is clear that there is a widening gap between those regions which are accelerating and those which have in previous years been stalled, and are now starting to slip back. So the regions which are growing, have added over 1,100 additional people. Half of this growth comes from the North West, with London and the South West splitting most of the rest. There are signs of growth in the North East, which has been one of the smallest regions and where we are working with directors’ association ADASS and the region’s Shared Lives schemes and partners to create a regional hub. The South East and Yorkshire have seen significant reductions, however, after having previously been regions which were using and developing Shared Lives strongly. The East and West Midlands remain essentially unchanged and the East of England, which has been the smallest region for some time, is now falling. Meanwhile, the model is growing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and we have embarked upon ambitious new programmes in each nation, with strong support from the Wales Government in particular.

With so much news about cuts and the crisis in the NHS, it is easy to believe that the future of public services will just be less of what we have now. But we believe Continue reading