Features: October 1st, 2010

By Arlene Adams

The public sector is set to see extensive budget reductions. The social care sector is consequently left feeling apprehensive about the future. The author explains how social care departments can prepare for the future and strive to deliver more for less with better planning and commissioning and an adaptable approach.

Although an ever-evolving and developing sector which is accustomed to overcoming numerous extensive pressures, the cuts to social care budgets is a cause for concern due to the detrimental implications. With non protected public sector departments facing reductions, the impact could be significant. However, providing strategic planning is in place, funding reductions need not affect the quality of care services. The question being asked by many, however, is how can this be achieved?

Not a simple, one-size-fits solution, this complex sector requires a holistic and considered approach to overcome the challenges. One crucial area to invest in to ensure a high level of care is maintained is transformational programmes. With health budgets protected, it is probable that PCTs, whatever their guise, will be analysed to a greater extent in the future; trusts would therefore be short-sighted not to look to the work carried out in social care to guide them.

The importance of planning

Spending on care services should be addressed and planning is imperative in order to ensure the increasing demand nationwide is handled effectively. Tried and tested models of the past are no longer sustainable in many cases and therefore need revising. With considered financial management and planning, this ensures short-term fixes are not achieved at the expense of longer-term sustainability. Through services auditing and creating cost reductions in other areas, this allows the budgets to be redirected to areas and services which are more critical.

Considered commissioning

Each and every council has a responsibility to deliver value for citizens whilst also streamlining business efficiencies. As a result, councils should identify techniques that will support them in overcoming financial pressures. One way to achieve this is via the improvement of commissioning. By introducing the suitable processes and tools huge savings are fully achievable. Alarmingly, LAs are pouring in excess of 20% – 25% to some providers delivering fostering and residential care services which is an unnecessary expenditure, yet if addressed is also a simple way to reduce outgoings.

OLM Group has worked with LAs and PCTs to provide professional services and technology solutions to identify national savings of over £23 million; and savings of over £5.3 million for customers have been achieved to date. An example of best practice is Edinburgh City Council which has benefitted from annual savings of £137,240 following the implementation of an online booking system to manage block contracts and reduce the waste of vacant beds. An overall gain of 31 per cent increase in bed occupancy rates has resulted.

Another best practice example is Hertfordshire County Council. After adopting a consultancy service programme which facilitates renegotiation of appropriate care packages, care placement outgoings have been reduced and this has led to £2 million being returned to its adult care services budget.

A personalised formula

In order to transform the delivery of care, personalisation is essential. The UK is set for an aging population; by 2026 predictions state that 40 per cent of its residents will be over the age of 50. This means that adult services must adapt in accordance with the associated demand increase. Designed to deliver care which is tailored to the citizen, the Putting People First change agenda reduces bureaucracy and also offers choice and control. Significant for the future of social care, this programme is something I feel we will see extended to the children’s services sector once benefits in adult services are recognised. Personalisation has the power to decease expenditure through providing a clear guide of the support available for requirements, thus aiding early intervention.

Citizens are better able to stay out of the care system for a longer period. Personalisation has huge scope for success, however, this is dependent upon the automation of financial processes since savings are only achievable if the administration necessary to manage the service is maintained at a minimum.

A collaborative approach

Another effective technique for reducing costs and streamlining efficiencies is via joint working/integration, as this enables the citizen’s entire journey to be managed. Therefore duplication is decreased and credibility of data is improved. Through encouraging departments to collaborate and share a single view of key information regarding each individual a more co-ordinated approach is implemented and a better service created. A holistic and inclusive approach enables the highest level of care and outcomes to be accomplished and substantial fiscal savings can be realised.

Mobilise the workforce

Mobile working and remote technologies deliver significant advantages, particularly in terms of financial benefits. Employee overheads and infrastructure costs can be reduced which enables LAs to limit expenditure. Through mobile working, social work departments have successfully saved £500,000 yearly. Adopting mobile technologies supports social care departments to empower employees because they are able to dedicate a greater amount of time to completing the job they are employed to do, as opposed to spending it re-inputting data or travelling to and from the office. This therefore, means the workforce morale and standard of work increases due to front-of-line workers being able to resume the practice and duties they were originally trained in and which made the sector and job role appeal to them initially.

Providing more with less

With budget cuts looming, it has never been a more critical period for the public sector. The key message to social care departments is they must invest to save; something that can be achieved through transformational programmes that will not detrimentally impact upon citizen outcomes. Through identifying systems and processes to streamline procedures, internal financial and psychological benefits will be reaped. PCTs may not be experiencing the same level of pressure with regard to cuts, yet it is vital they learn from colleagues within social care about how they can deliver more for less in order to secure a high level of health and wellbeing outcomes for citizens.

Arlene Adams is managing director, OLM Systems part of OLM Group, an independent supplier of software solutions for children’s and adult services, with a growing presence in health. www.olmgroup.com