Book your own breaks websites help carers, users and staff

A system for carers to book breaks is showing how the internet can help personalise care, reports Natalie Valios

A system for carers to book breaks is showing how the internet can help personalise care, reports Natalie Valios

Project details

Project name: Book Your Own Breaks and Breakaway for Carers, Hertfordshire.

Aims and objectives: To provide a simple, innovative way of giving carers breaks to give them choice, flexibility and control.

Numbers of service users: 155 carers use BYOB; 97 use BfC.

Number of staff/volunteers: 92 care support workers are registered to use BYOB; BfC has 52 volunteers.

Funding: £400,000 over two years, from the Department of Health, as one of the national carers strategy demonstrator sites for providing breaks.

Outcomes: Anecdotally carers’ breaks enable cared-for individuals to stay at home longer. An evaluation of all demonstrator sites by the University of Leeds is expected in September.

A flexible work system that allows people to sell their labour in small blocks – or “slivers” – of time, without the need for phone calls or paperwork, sounds like the answer to many employers’ prayers. In 2005, the government commissioned social enterprise Slivers-of-Time Markets to design and develop new technology to do just that.

The idea fits neatly with the personalisation of social care, by enabling service users to purchase services online directly from care workers at mutually convenient times.

“We believe you can’t have cost-effective personalised social care without something like this,” says Wingham Rowan, director of Slivers-of-Time Markets. “We bring self-management to social care. This gives consumers more choice and control, which fits with personalisation.”

But there’s a problem, he says. Local authorities are generally too cautious to invest the money. “Many are content with a directory website that lists local providers so that the user has to phone them to sort [services] out. That is 1990s technology, it’s not efficient. We are slightly frustrated by councils’ low aspirations.”

Just three local authorities – Greenwich, Warwickshire and Hertfordshire – are pioneering the system in social care. Tim Anfilogoff, head of community well-being at Hertfordshire Council, came across the slivers of time concept when he was bidding to become one of the Department of Health’s demonstrator sites for testing new ways of providing breaks for carers.

“It became blindingly obvious when we looked at slivers that it was a mechanism that would turn something complicated into something easy,” he says.

Booking system

Because Crossroads Care’s two branches in the county were commissioned to provide carers’ breaks for the council, Anfilogoff approached them about trialling the computerised booking system. The council’s bid to become a demonstrator site was successful and it was awarded £400,000 over two years to set it up. This paid for the annual fee of £60,000 to Slivers-of-Time Markets for the licence, two dedicated co-ordinators, the secondment of team members from Slivers-of-Time to train carers and care support workers, and two days of support from the company each month.

The Book Your Own Breaks service was launched in May 2010. “It is a secure marketplace for carers to book care support workers themselves rather then phoning us to organise it – although those who still want to do this can,” says Sheelagh Taylor, chief executive of Crossroads Care Hertfordshire North.

“It means they can self-manage without the stress of employing someone. It’s a simple system; they have a login and can look at which care support workers are available. They choose who they want and a text and email is automatically sent to the care support worker. If they say yes, the booking is instantly confirmed.”

The care support workers, who can provide personal care, are vetted, trained, supervised and employed by Crossroads Care. Most breaks are funded by council carers’ grants so Crossroads Care deals with the finances too, relieving carers of another pressure.

There are plenty of benefits, says Taylor. “Carers maintain their independence and stay in control. The cared-for person is offered person-centred care and care support workers have flexible working and quality time with the cared-for person.

“Many carers like to dip into the service on an ad hoc basis when they need it rather than using it regularly and this is where the concept works so well.”

Breaks service

In August 2010 the system was introduced to the council’s long-established in-house carers’ breaks service, provided by volunteers. Breakaway for Carers, part of the council’s health and community services, is a free service, providing volunteer sitters to offer companionship to an older or disabled person. The booking system works in the same way.

Volunteers need two references and a doctor’s letter to say they are fit to work; they are CRB checked and are trained in food hygiene, confidentiality, safeguarding, moving and handling, medication and lone working. They are regularly supervised and carers and service users have regular reviews. After a recent recruitment drive to cope with demand, 20 more volunteers are expected to start soon.

“It gives the carer the reassurance and confidence to go out knowing that the service user is looked after,” says project manager Victoria Underwood. “They can book the same sitter so there is consistency for the cared-for person, which wouldn’t necessarily have happened before. For the volunteer, many used to be carers themselves so they enjoy being able to give something back.”

Hertfordshire also plans to expand the system, for example, into residential respite breaks, and over the next few years Anfilogoff expects all care providers in the area to want to be a part of it.

As Rowan says: “it is so obvious that social care needs this kind of tool”.

‘The online service suits me’

Jan Burt (above, left) has been caring for her husband Victor since he was diagnosed with dementia six years ago.

She was previously able to leave Victor on his own for an hour or two if she needed to go out and had found the situation manageable. However, Victor’s condition deteriorated last summer to the point where she realised she could no longer do this. So when someone at her support group told her about Crossroads Care she went on the internet to investigate.

“I like using the computer so I wondered if I could book something online.”

Burt discovered Book Your Own Breaks and says the service suits her. “I would rather do it online because I don’t want regular care, I just want it on an ad hoc basis if friends ask me out. It is brilliant; it gives me peace of mind because I know Victor is safe.

“I felt confident because it was run by Crossroads, which meant that anyone on their books would be vetted to come into our home.”

Burt only uses the service once or twice a month in the evenings – paid for by her carers’ grant – and has built up a rapport with care support worker Sandy Ballard (above right).

“We just got on when she arrived and she gelled with Victor which is the most important thing. He seems happy with Sandy so I always book her if I can. I have found it a great help.”

Ballard works full-time as the manager of a sheltered accommodation scheme but has always incorporated care work into her free time.

“I have clients I see regularly, like Victor, and it is rewarding. This is the best way of caring I’ve done: I love the flexibility and the fact that it’s not 10 minutes in and 10 minutes out, you are given time to get to know the carer and the client and for them to know you. It means I am able to give the carer the support they need.”

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