Loss of contracts and funding should be used by care providers as an opportunity to rethink the business of delivery, writes Geoff Ettridge (picured)
The urgency for care providers to transform has perhaps in the past been muted by the comfort that comes from having contracts or full homes – why fix something when it isn’t broken?
Until now the need to change has been more driven by policy and ideology, and those providers who have or are making changes are probably doing so for their own purposes. But make no mistake, although contracts are being honoured and homes may be full, the “paymasters” (commissioners and clients) are in trouble and it’s only a matter of time before their troubles are passed on to providers.
Government will rein in public funding and local authorities are additionally experiencing a loss of income from fees and investments. Although personal charitable giving may be sustained, corporate grants and grants from charitable bodies dependent on income from their investments, could well reduce. There is also a risk that people who fund their own care will find they cannot sustain their expectations as property values reduce and income from savings diminish.
All doom and gloom? Not necessarily if care providers take the opportunity to radically rethink their service or business strategy utilising this adversity to provide the necessity to drive invention. So what is there to be invented?
First, it is essential to recognise that the need for care services is going to continue to grow. The challenge is to find the most cost effective ways to meet these needs and to provide services that funders or purchasers will recognise as representing good value. It is also worth remembering that what a local authority commissioner may value may be quite different to what a self-funder values. So in revising or developing a new service it is essential to be mindful about what the client may wish to buy.
Merge and share
The obvious place to start for community and voluntary groups is to look for opportunities to merge, share assets and facilities or, more radically, to share officers – in the same way that local authorities are being encouraged to share chief executives. Going one step further, are there possibilities for voluntary groups collaborating to bring forward new services? Take for instance the 4Ability collaboration between SeeAbility, Liveability (formerly John Grooms), Liveability Housing (formerly John Grooms Housing Trust) and the Disability Trust. All these organisations, very credible in their own right, have recognised that individually they only meet part of the needs of the people they support. Coming together they have found they can pool expertise as well as offer a holistic range of services that people can move between or through as their circumstances change.
There are similar opportunities for collaborations in the private sector. Cutbacks in the health sector could result in higher levels of unemployment of therapists who could be recruited by a consortium of providers. The ready access to skilled therapists would add value to the services that are being marketed but more importantly help maximise the independence of clients and increase the skills of the care staff. Further, if a field teacher was appointed there would be an opportunity to take student placements that are known to bring new expertise and a fresh perspective to the workings of a team.
Rather than adopting a siege mentality this is the time to think creatively as the unthinkable becomes thinkable and perhaps, more importantly, do-able.
Geoff Ettridge is the director of consultancy service Capacity Builders. He worked for more than 20 years as a senior local authority manager of care services and service development.
This article appeared in 12 March issue