What would good look like?

When we talk about the shift towards a ‘people-powered’ NHS, we often talk in terms of culture and vision, but avoid suggesting actions which would transfer power to people, whether that power is in the form of money or other system levers. Chapter Two of NHS England’s Five Year Forward View set out how healthcare would become more community-based and people-powered. Whereas other changes involved setting up new kinds of organisation or using money in different ways, Chapter Two was a vision for doing things differently, with less clarity at that time about what new kinds of systems, services and relationships between people and the NHS would make that vision real.

During the last two or three years, we have learned more about what helps and what gets in the way of making the vision real. Shared Lives is one of a small number of new community-based support models which NHS England is directly backing to make the shift. Many of the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) which every area produced for its local health and care system talked about the need for a more community-based model but I haven’t read one which sets out a process for the transfer of money, knowledge, power or responsibility to local people and their representative organisations.

When that transfer doesn’t happen, nothing really changes. A highly regarded social prescribing programme, which demonstrated that it was enabling people to access new kinds of community support and improved their wellbeing, has just been ended by a CCG which decided it couldn’t afford it in tough times. It worked, but never became regarded as core business. The outcomes it achieved clearly weren’t those valued most by commissioners and the organisations involved did not achieve the status of equal partners with their statutory equivalents.

We need to put what we have learned into the NHS’s plans, and later in the year, the social care Green Paper. I think there are three kinds of change which would be present in an area which was doing people-power well:

  1. At least some of the money spent on health and care provision would be paying for people-shaped outcomes such as ‘wellbeing’, as it is defined in the Care Act.
  2. An element of the area’s infrastructure and commissioning budget would be paying for infrastructure that reaches, engages and convenes people, supporting them to take decisions at both individual and area level.
  3. Some of the oversight, performance and regulatory levers would be in the hands of people, via experts by experience and also their local groups. Current consultative structures would be replaced by well-resourced, trained and accountable forums and groups with teeth.

What would push or pull local health systems towards those three new ways of doing things?

The NHS is already putting some of its money and resources in people’s hands through an ambitious Personal Health Budget target. But this needs to be matched by ensuring every area has a brokerage service to help those people (particularly those least able to choose) to make individual choices and to connect with others who want similar things, to pool budgets and start to commission (design and improve services) rather than just to buy them. The Social Value Act enables commissioners who buy public services to demand that their suppliers give them added ‘social value’, such as using volunteers. The Act’s powers are used in a quarter of councils, but by very few NHS commissioners. This has to change.

It’s not just cash that needs to be put into people’s hands. In a people-powered area, family carers would be able to access medical expertise, training, equipment and emergency back up to sustain their caring roles. Social prescribing programmes can put money and resources into the hands of local community groups and social enterprises which help people to live well. Initiatives like Local Area Coordination and Health Champions create connections between people who use health services and their services and communities.

Some of this won’t happen unless the NHS moves some of the money it spends on infrastructure into people’s hands. Health commissioning is expensive, but currently most of it is ineffective in building community-based care, so some of its resources should be spent instead on people and organisations which can help citizens themselves co-design new models of care. Most local areas have organisations which organise and speak on behalf of the voluntary sector, such as the local Council for Voluntary Services and which represent people’s voices in health and care such as HealthWatch and Learning Disability Partnership Boards. Some have organisations which effectively build a local marketplace of lots of different kinds of charities and social enterprises. A handful build the smallest enterprises. In many areas these different kinds of organisations are fragile and disconnected, with unstable funding. User-led organisations and organisations representing overlooked communities are losing funding. None of these organisations have teeth. A people-powered area would bring those organisations together into a wellbeing hub which would ensure that citizens and their local organisations could help to design and monitor health and care services. It would inform and build a local marketplace of service providers and it could help local peer support groups and be a link between such grassroots initiatives and clinicians and other experts within the system. Commissioners should have to make themselves regularly accountable to the people they serve and a hub would be a way to resource and bring together user-led and self-advocacy organisations to make this happen.

This isn’t just about putting resources into people’s hands and offering them new rights. Rights are only meaningful if those people who engage share responsibility and ownership of the new system. So some of the system accountability must be put in people’s hands. As well as the hub model above, we need a new set of measures of what the NHS and care organisations achieve, which measure wellbeing, not just narrow clinical outcomes like mortality. Some health and care system performance measures could be wholly or partly scored by people who use health and care services and their local groups such as self-advocacy groups for people with learning disabilities and carers’ organisations. Local systems would need to develop, resource and challenge those groups to perform that function, which would help to address the longstanding problem of voice organisations existing on sufferance and scraps of money. They would also need to recruit experts by experience to use in commissioning, monitoring and inspection.

This turned into quite a techy blog. That’s deliberate: if we mean the vision for health and care which is rooted in communities and delivered with and by people themselves, we have to be able to describe the different systems and ways of spending money which would make that vision happen.

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