Paul Davies (Pic: Edward Moss/UNP)
Improving advice and care for the public is key to personalisation and Walsall Council has made it a priority, finds Natalie Valios
Providing universal access to information and advice on social care is one of five priority areas for implementing the personalisation agenda. But, according to research from the charity and information provider Opportunity Links, 40% of councils had not even achieved the April 2010 milestone of developing an information strategy, as of June this year. This is serious given that all councils in England are expected to have personalised services in place by April 2011.
Walsall Council is one of a handful of local authorities that Opportunity Links highlights as making good progress. Paul Davies, executive director for adult social care and inclusion, says: “We see [information and advice] as a pivotal activity. As we begin to roll out our services with more emphasis on choice and control and a more diverse range of provision, how we provide information and advice becomes more important because if people don’t know about these services then it’s a waste of time.”
This explains why Walsall is ahead of the game, says Harriet Mathie, strategic policy manager at Opportunity Links. “That active engagement [from the director] at a strategic level means that information isn’t looked at in isolation but is linked to how it can help wider agendas, such as personalisation.
“Walsall has also engaged with voluntary organisations and clients when shaping services so they don’t just tick a box but are useful for those they are intending to reach.”
Every piece of information destined for adult social care users has to be approved by a readers group run by user-led organisation Walsall Service Users Empowerment. Emma Palmer, the council’s strategic lead for stakeholder engagement, says: “They check whether it gives the right information, that it is accessible, easy to read and in plain English. It doesn’t get printed unless it has their stamp of approval.”
About 18 months ago, the council set up a user and carer reference group to inform and involve people in the personalisation agenda. “The group helps us explore what type of information people need, the subject areas, any gaps and what people need to know about self-directed support,” says Palmer.
The group is also looking at the council website to improve quality and accessibility. But Davies adds: “We are not losing sight of face-to-face contact. We are dealing with people who are often stressed, vulnerable and upset and they need human contact.”
This is particularly important in the follow-up work the council is developing. “Being diagnosed with a condition can be a shock so we are working on ways we can follow people up a few days later. For example, if someone is told they are going to lose their sight, whatever you say to them at that time about help and support, the only thing they have heard is the diagnosis,” says Davies. “You need to give them time for it to sink in rather than just leave them with a diagnosis and a leaflet.”
The plan is to work with relevant voluntary organisations, which would follow up with the user on the council’s behalf.
Davies feels it is wrong to assume that the “same old, same old” always works when it comes to information and advice. “GP surgeries and libraries are believed to be good places to leave leaflets. But research shows this not to be the case and I think access to information and advice should be as personalised as we can make it.
“Preventive services such as luncheon clubs are good places to talk to groups of older people. You might take some leaflets with you, but the main approach is face-to-face and that makes it more personalised. It’s about better targeting and knowing your market.”
Improving information and advice and enhancing choice and control for users are closely linked, says Davies. “You can’t expect to improve people’s knowledge should they choose to control their own services without a developed information strategy so the two move in parallel.
“Those councils that aren’t paying attention to this [agenda] need to because it’s just going to get more important.”
This article is published in the 28 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Information is power
Tips on better advice
● Identify a strategic lead within the authority to ensure effective delivery and recognition of the benefits that good information and advice can play in social care.
● Agree and prioritise the scope of the information you need to provide.
● Ensure information and advice is accessible to all, using a blend of formats and mechanisms.
● Engage service users at all stages.
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