After a three and a half years of work the adult social work practice pilots finally came to an end at the start of April.
The pilots, first announced by the Department of Health in November 2010, sought to test new ways of delivering social care by moving adult social work into independent practices free from the usual local authority framework.
The full evaluation of the seven pilots is still being prepared by King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit but what has happened to them since the pilot period came to an end?
Community Care caught up with the pilots to find out the latest on their attempts to forge a new path for adult social work.
1. North East Lincolnshire
North East Lincolnshire’s pilot was the biggest of all and saw the area’s entire adult social work function, including safeguarding, being moved out of the NHS and into focus, a fully independent company.
Most of focus’s 150 staff were transferred to the company under TUPE rules and so retain their NHS pay and conditions arrangements. Staff also form the bulk of the company’s board members.
It’s an arrangement that is set to stay as focus has been guaranteed funding for another three years.
Marc Wilson, the business manager of focus, says the shift from public to not-for-profit sector has allowed more people to be supported.
“The way we work differently is that if people are not eligible for statutory commissioned services, we can actively look to provide them with an offer through a community based approach or through advice and guidance,” he says.
Shropshire’s pilot resulted in the creation of People2People, a social enterprise charged with trying out new ways of assessing older people and those with physical and/or learning disabilities as well as their carers.
As well as doing assessments, People2People arranges support and services for those it works with and allocates personal budgets.
Initially, it only operated in the Shrewsbury area but later on in the pilot period its remit was expanded to cover the south of the county.
Since the end of the pilot People2People has had its funding extended until April 2015 and its remit expanded to cover the north of Shropshire.
Birmingham’s social work practice Activ8 didn’t make it to the end of the pilots.
Activ8 was designed to cater for the needs of people with physical disabilities and run by the charity BID Services, but its functions were taken back in house by the council last September as part of a restructuring of adult services.
Suffolk’s pilot Sensing Change is tasked with supporting people with sight and hearing loss. While the company is still owned by Suffolk County Council the plan is for the practice to become fully independent in April 2015.
“We’ve had an extension to our service level agreement with Suffolk County Council for another year,” says Caroline Carr, managing director of Sensing Change.
“That takes us up until the Care Bill kicks in, which should have the delegation of duties power that would apply to our social work practice. So we’re now working towards that date to divest fully from the council.”
Carr says the staff at Sensing Change, who are currently seconded from the council, will be transferred to the company under TUPE rules when the company becomes independent.
She says that the move from local authority to independence has been positive if challenging at times.
“It’s not always been easy to make that transition from a very large public service and into the mindset that is needed to start thinking of creating a viable business,” she says.
“But we’ve concentrated on improving outcomes for customers. For example we now take direct referrals. Before when we were part of the council people had to go through a central service that those with hearing loss or deafness found difficult so now it’s easier for customers to get in touch.”
Sensing Change has also been generating income by running sensory awareness and British sign language courses for clients such as the retailer John Lewis.
For its pilot Stoke farmed out its support for 221 individuals and carers affected by long-term neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, to JMC Healthcare – a community interest company.
But after an unpublished internal review the council decided not to continue the pilot after March and has now brought the service back in-house.
“The pilot was originally due to end in September 2013, but the council made the decision to extend the contract with JMS Homecare until March 31, 2014,” said councillor Gwen Hassall, the city’s cabinet member for social care.
“This was primarily because the pilot was the last of the seven to be implemented and we felt an extension would allow a further period in which to test new ways of working.
“It would also enable further evaluation to take place, ideally incorporating learning from the national evaluation through King’s College, London.
“Unfortunately information from the national evaluation has yet to be published, but following a review undertaken by the joint commissioning unit within the city council, a decision was made to end the pilot as of March 31, 2014, and bring the assessment and case management of the individuals supported by JMS Homecare back within the authority.”
But while the practice has ceased to be, Hassall says the lessons will “help inform the future direction of social work assessment and support within the city”.
Lambeth’s pilot saw the creation of Topaz, a community interest company tasked with supporting the independence of adults who fund their own care or have low or moderate needs.
Its preventative focus has been successful, according to a Lambeth Council spokesman.
“The pilot has enabled us to prove to our commissioners the preventative outcomes that Topaz can deliver,” he said. “In 2012/13 only 8% of the people who received this service are now in receipt of adult social care services.”
In light of this the council has extended its funding for Topaz, which employs its social workers directly, until April next year.
“It is evident that savings have been made on the social care budget,” said the spokesman. “Moreover, Topaz is aligned to the requirements of the Care Bill and the service is modeled in accordance with the following: assessment, early intervention, support planning and effective advice, information and advocacy.”
As well as delivering services commissioned by the council, Topaz has won NHS funding to provide specialist support to stroke survivors in Lambeth.
Surrey also opted for a community interest company, forming FirstPoint – a practice charged with providing specialist social work support to people with deafness and hearing loss.
Its services include training for clients and carers, running coffee mornings for deaf people to reduce their isolation and providing loop systems within residential care settings and people’s homes.
FirstPoint has also been selling its know-how by offering training to other professionals and British sign language interpretation services.
Its director Fiona McIntosh says the model has allowed the service to do things it could not have done while within the local authority.
“We have embraced new technology to allow our sign language users to phone us directly through web cams,” she says. “Being a pilot has also allowed staff to develop a range of skills including electronic note-taking, marketing and publicity, and using social media.”
Surrey has agreed to maintain FirstPoint’s funding until April 2015 and the plan is for the company to become fully independent of the council from that date.
When that happens the staff who moved to FirstPoint from the council will be transferred under TUPE rules.
A council spokeswoman said the council has already “identified the need” for the staff transferred from the authority to FirstPoint to retain their local authority pension arrangements.