Partly due to its geography and economies of scale, south west local authorities have a history of working collaboratively. Julie Griffiths looks at two recent examples of this
The single assessment process
For the past five years, Cornwall, Devon, Torbay and Plymouth councils, along with NHS agencies, have been working together on a particularly large collaboration project: the delivery of a single assessment process (SAP).
Instead of the project being led by one organisation, each council, with 10 PCTs, one care trust, an ambulance trust and two partnership trusts invested in a central team to co-ordinate the work.
Initially, a limited paper-based SAP was created for use in the homes of people with long-term conditions. But it was quickly apparent that an electronic version would bring greater benefits such as a reduction in unplanned admissions, delayed transfers of care and the need for reassessments.
The collaboration hopes to sign a contract with an IT supplier in the next few months and launch the e-SAP in early 2007. The e-SAP will be web-based, meaning the various organisations’ IT systems can use it without the need to be compatible with each other.
Heather Eardley, programme manager for South West Peninsula SAP, says that, while the impetus for a more joined-up approach came from single assessment, the benefits have gone beyond this.
“People feel that they are communicating better across agencies and can sort issues out quicker,” she says.
But she adds that it has been a long journey. Organisations had to overcome ingrained cultural differences, professional differences and even use of language to work more effectively together.
“It was simple things like someone talking about a care plan and another professional having a different understanding of what that meant. And the way things are done varies widely. We’ve had to learn to trust each others’ assessments. People can be precious about the way they have been trained,” says Eardley.
To help staff rise above the differences, the SAP team picked champions across the organisations and ran group events that were funded by the Modernisation Agency for all stakeholders.
Eardley says this was an important first step in collaborative working: “People were saying, ‘This is the first time that we’ve sat down and talked together’. But it takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Councils realised collaborative working could help them further in their negotiations with private firms and voluntary sector groups that provide services.
Peter Murphy, director of community care and housing at South Gloucestershire Council, explains: “When we mapped out who was spending what on services, we found a lot of money was going into the same providers with little discussion going on. It made no sense. So we’ll be working with providers to look at how services can change.”
Alongside this, 14 authorities are working with the South West Centre of Excellence, a body set up by government to support local authorities in the delivery of efficiency savings under the National Procurement Strategy.
The local authorities put together a joint business proposal for two-years’ funding. In March, they were awarded £300,000.
Now a number of pilots are being set up across the South West.
Murphy says the aim is for all of the region’s councils to benefit.
“One authority will pick a pilot and run with it, but it will share the findings across the region. We’re trying to set up a durable infrastructure. We need to, otherwise there’s a danger that the wheels will fall off.” CC
Not only for older people
The single assessment process was specified as the way forward in the government’s National Service Framework for Older People, but councils in the South West have extended it to apply to all adults with health and social care needs. The process is aimed at simplifying assessments, reducing duplication and empowering service users to a far greater extent than before. It also allows for sharing of information between professionals working for different agencies, once the consent of the service user has been gained.