All too human: the need for coalitions across different motivations and organisations

mirror mazeHere’s a post I’ve written on the need for coalition building across a range of motivations and organisations if successful change is to happen in social care. This is part of the #socialcarefuture series that @mroutled has been bringing together, designed to create a space to get past just thinking about stabilising the current social care system which isn’t fit for the future. Here is the rest of the #socialcarefuture blog series.


Much debate in public policy focuses on the “why” and the “what”. Why is this issue important? Why should it be prioritised over something else? What should be in place that isn’t? What needs to change for this to happen?

Comparatively little focus is placed on “how” – the practicalities of putting the why and what into action. The “how” follows once the “why” and the “what” have been largely agreed, and is important because it’s in this space that all of people’s experiences are generated. It’s also where good ideas can turn into bad delivery.

But below the “how” is a question even less attention is given to: “who?” Rarely is it considered: who is asking for this change? Who is the change being asked of? What are the motivations of these respective groups?

It is too easy to lament how poor commissioning and commissioners are; or how it would be so much better if only senior leaders recognised the radical difference that x or y would make. But this is to fall into the trap of “what’s the matter with these people?” rather than thinking, familiarly enough, “what matters to these people?”

This thought came home to me when, for around three years, I was simultaneously on both “sides” of a policy argument. For around half of my time I was working in a disabled people’s user-led organisation (DPULO), advocating for disabled people’s equality and rights, delivering user-led services and promoting choice and control through personalisation in social care. The other half of my time was in, of all places, the Office for Disability issues within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP_.

What was fascinating about this was, even though I would say exactly the same things when wearing my DPULO or DWP hat, people would receive a message considerably differently depending on how they perceived me in that moment. Disability rights campaigners would broadly be ok with my thoughts when shared from a DPULO perspective. But the exact same thoughts wouldn’t be acceptable if I expressed them from a DWP platform.

In neither situation was the idea that disabled people’s equality and rights mattered to me. Nor was it recognised I was consciously choosing different means to others by which to achieve what was, in fact, a common goal.

This leads to two connected conclusions relevant for #socialcarefuture.

The first is to understand that what matters to people, matters. Motivations for engaging in an issue will differ. There will be a junior minister who wants to be promoted; there will be lifelong advocates who have dedicated themselves for 25 years to a certain change; there will be civil servants who want a pragmatic solution to a pressing problem they are facing. But all of these different motivations are as present as each other, and can be skilfully aligned to achieve a common change that works for all.

The second is to recognise that such a broad coalition of people with different motivations will be located across a wide range of organisations. Indeed, the coalition has to be widely distributed if it has any chance of succeeding: each participant will have access to something others don’t, and that is needed for the overall change. As a result, some coalition members will be “inside” the system. Some will be outside (possibly literally, chained to railings or waving placards). Some will be in the grey area that is neither inside nor outside (the voluntary sector is most often found in this space). Some may not even know they’re in the coalition.

What leads to change is consciously acknowledging and valuing the existence of such a broad coalition across motivations and organisations. Each participant – each “who”, with their all too human motivations and positions – makes a needed contribution, and it is only through this coalition that successful change will come about.

(For those interested in the public policy theory that underpins such coalitions, this primer on Advocacy Coalition Frameworks https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/policy-concepts-in-1000-words-the-advocacy-coalition-framework/ is excellent.)

#peoplepoweredhealth: how to make it stick – in one minute

As promised, here are my reflections on “how to make #peoplepoweredhealth stick”, which I shared at Nesta’s People Powered Health event. For context, I was given one minute and was speaking alongside some terrific speakers, so decided to offer a particular angle on what I thought might work…

  • There are limits to progress that can be made through hard levers, like policy, regulations, guidance, draft contracts
  • Policy makers, commissioners providers, practitioners – i.e. people – are rarely motivated by efficiencies and technical
  • They are motivated by good relationships, happiness, positive contact, seeing the difference they make, feeling like they are good at what they do
  • My reflection on making people powered health stick is to support people to come together as people, rather than in the roles they have, so that they can directly and personally experience what it is that motivates people
  • Part of making it stick is trying to move beyond our protective labels and roles, and emphasizing our common human bond.

 

The institutionalisation of successful social movements: peril or pragmatism?

Nesta’s #peoplepoweredhealth event earlier this week was hugely enjoyable. It built on the vast range of work Nesta has done on this topic over the last few years, and brought together a wonderful and diverse range of people.

“Work” shouldn’t be this much fun.

It was a privilege to be part of the session on “People powered health: how to make it stick?” I’ll write up what I said another time, but wanted to share something else that occurred to me through the discussion and after reading this excellent related report on health as a social movement (pdf).

It focuses on the question of what success looks like for innovative approaches:

What if social movements were so successful that what they advocated for was completely taken on by institutions (such as the NHS)? What if people powered health became so sticky that the NHS completely appropriated it?

social movements and institutionalisation

If this happened, would this count as success? Or would it represent too much of a compromise or dilution of what the pure approach was when it was outside the grip of a big institution?

We don’t need to look very far for examples of where this has happened before. In social care, Direct Payments in 1996 were an innovation proposed and owned by the disabled people’s movement. Fast forward to 2014 and personal budgets are the default delivery mechanism for all community-based social care. Along the way, many disability campaigners have become anxious about the compromise of notional budgets or the use of resource allocation systems.

More recently, social prescribing could be argued to be an example of an innovation whose adoption by the formal health system has meant it has moved away from what it was originally intended to be.

And yet in the case of both personal budgets and social prescribing, their ultimate net benefit is greater for their adoption by large institutions than if they’d have stayed as small but perfectly formed innovations.

I wonder if most social movements start out with the hope of what they advocate for becoming part of the system? And I wonder if the inevitable pragmatism that’s needed to reach that point imperils the very value such approaches represent?

My personal view, as I’ve written before, is that if such appropriation makes things a “bit” better for a “few” more people, then it’s worth doing. But it would be fascinating to know what you think!

A mathematician’s view on integration in health and social care

Though the answer may be integration, we don’t always know what the question is.

Similarly, though we often say “integration”, it’s not always clear what type of integration we mean. There are at least four interpretations of what we meant when we talk about “integration”:

  • Integration across any of primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare
  • Integration across health and social care (and education and housing and etc.) boundaries
  • Integration of resources and processes
  • Integration at the level of the individual.

As a mathematician by training, integration has another particular meaning to me. I thought it would be useful to reflect on what integration means from a mathematician’s perspective and so what we might learn from this in the context of health and social care.IntegrationMathematically, integration is the reverse process of differentiation. Differentiation is all about rates of change across different variables in a system. Differentiation is a way of thinking about the world as a result of combining infinitesimally small changes at particular points in time or space.

Integration, on the other hand, gives you a bigger sense of the whole. It tells you not just about rates of change but the overall picture you have: the sum total of what exists in time or space.

Differentiation is easier. It’s exciting (think Mick Jagger swaggering around a stage) and has no room for anything but the most important stuff. If there are any ‘spare’ numbers floating around then the process of differentiation gets rids of them – they disappear.

Integration, as any mathematician will tell you, is far harder. It’s a slower, altogether more considered process that requires more sophistication (think Bjork). There are some tricks you can use to make it slightly easier – such as integration by parts – but the challenge of integration remains.

And because integration is the reverse of differentiation it adds in an unknown factor: the arbitrary constant (from which this blog takes its name). Where differentiation has no space or time for the arbitrary constant, integration very deliberately includes it and recognises it. This unknown factor – an unidentified ingredient – is a vital component of integration.

(Interestingly, the only time the added, unknown ingredient of the arbitrary constant doesn’t play a part in integration is if you explicitly define the boundaries within which integration happens. By specifying these limits so exactly the arbitrary constant is cancelled out.)

If we were therefore to try and summarise what we know about integration from a mathematical point of view we’d say something like this:

  • Integration is harder than differentiation – though there are limited tricks to make it easier
  • It gives a bigger picture across a wider area than a specific view of just one point in time or space
  • It has a secret ingredient – the arbitrary constant – which his fundamental to capturing this bigger picture
  • This secret ingredient disappears only if you define exactly the boundaries of what integration is trying to achieve
  • Integration is a subtle, complex process that takes time and understanding to do.

Thus, though you wouldn’t immediately think it, the mathematical conception of integration tells us everything we need to know about successful integration in public services, especially across health and social care and beyond.

It’s person-centred, Jim – but not as we know it

We all have our favourite “I can’t believe that actually happened” stories in social care.

Mine relates to care and support planning: whilst observing a panel process (error number 1), a Head of Social Care instructed a social worker (error number 2) to change a support plan so that all sentences were “I” statements (error number 3) from the point of view of the patient [sic] (error number 4), without going back to the person themselves (error number 5).

It would be funny if it weren’t so normal.

But we hear variations of this all the time, summarised in the line:

Of course what I do is person-centred care – it always has been

If we are honest, relatively little of what currently happens in the care and support system is person-centred (though we’re definitely moving in the right direction).

This being the case, we should ask ourselves: if it isn’t person-centred, then what is it? I think there are at least four alternatives:

  1. Money-centred care: where what people get is what commissioners can either afford, currently buy, or have always bought
  2. Provider-centred care: where the primary objective is to ensure the ongoing feasibility of an organisation rather than the people it serves
  3. Process-driven care: where filling out the paperwork or keeping the IT system happy is the main driver
  4. Professionally-driven care: where the professional knows best and tends to think of the person in front of them as another one of their caseload or a walking set of conditions

Thinking of it in this way shows why the drive to person-centred care has been so difficult: it requires significant change on a number of major fronts – the flows of money, the role of providers, the supremacy and comfort of process, and the culture of professionals.

It’s why I’m personally so excited about person-centred care and what it means for the future. It isn’t just an optional variation of what we’ve always done; it flips public services as we know them on their head. To make this happen, though, we need to be clearer on the alternatives that being person-centred is replacing.

Another cross-party commission on health and social care?

Andy Cowper is most probably right that there won’t be another cross-party commission on health and social care:

A cross-party funding commission on health and social care might get traction if funding issues represented an imminent and significant political challenge to the Government.

Thanks to The Fixed Term Parliaments Act and the tacit, uncivil war within the Labour Party, this does not seem likely.

Andy also makes another vital point: the Treasury doesn’t think there is an NHS financial crisis, let alone one that can be fixed by investing more in social care.

(As an aside, can someone explain to me why ex-Ministers seem to be more proactive in a policy area than they were when actually Minister for the relevant portfolio? This, of course, is a rhetorical question, but doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating.)

 

Wicked issues and constructive conversations in health and social care

wicked-musical-movie1
Image via Screenrant

The Social Care Institute for Excellence is working with the Health Foundation and Institute for Government on a fascinating project about how “constructive conversations” can help with “wicked issues” in health and social care.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a discussion about the project and hear a wonderful summary of the literature on both constructive conversations and wicked issues from ICFI, and wanted to quickly reflect here two key parts of the useful information that was shared.

(I stress that the information below is taken directly from the really excellent work by ICFI, to whom all plaudits should absolutely go!)

First, what is a wicked issue?

The concept is taken from social planning (Rittel and Webber, 1973) referring to problematic social situations where: there is no obvious solution; many individuals and organisations are involved; there is disagreement amongst the stakeholders and there are desired behavioural changes. Public policy problems are ‘wicked’ (Clarke and Stewart, 1997) where they go beyond the scope of any one agency (e.g. health promotion strategies) and intervention by one actor not aligned with other actors may be counter productive. They require a broad response, working across boundaries and engaging stakeholders and citizens in policy making and implementation (Australian Public Services Commission, 2007).

Wicked issues therefore have the following typical characteristics:

  • Are multi-causal with connections to many other issues
  • Are difficult to define – so that “stakeholders understand the problem in different ways and emphasise different causal factors… The way the problem is approached and tackled depends on how it is framed, so there may be disagreement about problem definition and solution.”
  • Are socially complex – “Decisions about how to tackle them are unavoidably political, values based and may raise moral dilemmas. They cannot be tackled as technical challenges with scientific solutions; there is no point at which sufficient evidence will be gathered to make a decision.”
  • Require a whole system, multi-agency response – they do not sit within the control or authority of a single organisation, making it difficult to position responsibility.
  • Have no clear or optimal solution – they are not right or wrong, but better, worse or good enough
  • Have no immediate or ultimate test of ‘success’.

Against these characteristics, questions of social care, health, promoting disability equality, and public service reform are all obvious wicked issues.

Second, what is a constructive conversation?

The phrase “constructive conversation” itself is perhaps not well known, but its attributes are becoming increasingly familiar since they reflect much of what the approach to system leadership calls for.

A constructive conversation engages in what area known as “clumsy solutions”:

  • Questions not answers: seeking a deep understanding of the problem
  • Relationships not structures: engagement as the primary vehicle of change
  • Reflection not reaction: resisting the pressure for decisive action at too early a stage
  • Positive deviance not negative acquiescence: ignore, or look beyond, conventional culture and wisdom
  • Negative capability: the ability to remain comfortable with uncertainty
  • Constructive dissent not destructive consent: seeking consent is often destructive and illusory
  • Collective intelligence not individual genius: WPs are not susceptible to individual resolution
  • Community of fate not a fatalistic community: collective responsibility to underpin action which is likely to involve risk-taking
  • Empathy not egoism: seeking to understanding how other people see the problem, and the wider context”

As a result, a conversation is constructive if the following are in place:

  • A commitment to be open and honest
  • A conscious effort to foster and maintain trust
  • Clear information, provided at the right time
  • A focus on relationships not methods, underpinned by the goal of collaboration
  • Well-defined roles and clear expectations
  • The involvement of all stakeholders, fostering a whole-system approach
  • The ability and willingness to be flexible, wherever possible”

What a wonderful though subtle rejection of “heroic leadership” or CEO-itis this is, and what an obvious parallel with co-production it produces!

As I read through the slides of the summary on wicked issues and constructive conversations I found myself scribbling “YES!” and “Absolutely!” all the way through, so well did the findings tally with my feelings about what’s needed for change, especially in health and social care, and disability equality. They clearly tally with the ideas of system leadership and collective impact we’ve written about here before on many occasions (1, 2, 3). Though I could understand it if people were to tire of yet another set of terms that could be used and abused, for me the value of the above is in having something further to point to, consistent with what we’ve been talking about before, that further articulates the how I feel we need to go about change.

What can we learn from the Right to Control?

The Right to Control was a new rights-based approach to support and services for disabled people. It brought together a range of government funding streams across social care, housing and employment with a view to improving people’s experiences across these funding streams and, ultimately, improving people’s lives.

I write about it in the past tense because the Right to Control is no more. The pilot ran for two years from December 2009 with a further extension until the end of December 2012. A Ministerial decision in 2014, however, decided not to roll-out the Right to Control any further.

The decision was based in large part on the findings of a formal evaluation (pdf). This

did not find any evidence of the Right to Control having a positive impact on customers, either in terms of their experiences of applying for and organising support or services, or in terms of their day-to-day lives, including employment outcomes.

The evaluation notes, however, this lack of evidence is most likely due to the fact people did “not experience the intended Right to Control customer journey” and that the short space of time for which the pilots existed may not have been sufficient for the full effects of Right to Control to be felt.

What was unique about the Right to Control, compared to pilots regarding Individual Budgets (as were) and Personal Health Budgets (as are) was its attempt to unify – to integrate – funding streams around an individual. It was therefore similar to parts of what the Integrated Personal Commissioning programme is seeking to achieve.

The question is this: What can we learn from the Right to Control? From my reading of the evaluation, other documentation available around the Right to Control, and from conversations with colleagues who were heavily involved in several of the pilot areas, I would suggest eight (by no means comprehensive) things we can learn*.

1. Create demand from the bottom-up by building the understanding and expectations of people who could benefit from the change. There is no point having new rights or the potential for more choice and control if the people these are intended to benefit aren’t aware of them or equipped to expect them. This isn’t just limited to people who use services, either: carers and staff are also important to focus on. For example, employment support in a northern pilot area worked so well under the Right to Control because there were two Disability Employment Advisors who were looking for a way to change a system they saw every day wasn’t working for the people they supported. The Right to Control gave them a vehicle to change things.

2. To build meaningful demand, market development must start as soon as possible. The Right to Control evaluation notes the following specific conditions needed to be in place: (1) People were aware they could request changes; (2) People had information and advice to make confident choices; (3) People had meaningful choices. The first two are extensions of my first point. The third – meaningful choice – is facilitated by two vital, complementary process: (1) coordinated care and support planning, and (2) market development. I’ll deal with coordinated care and support planning in a separate post. On market development, the most important lesson from the Right to Control is that market development didn’t start soon enough. It takes time to start, (re)negotiate or end contracts and agreements with providers of all sizes, to inform and work with them of the types of changes anticipated, to keep people and staff up-to-date on changes to the local ‘market’, and all the other similar activities that make for successful market development. Start early on market development, and be proactive about it.

3. The third lesson is no surprise at all: change on this scale takes time. By “change” I mean both practical and cultural change. Practically, for example, it took around twelve months in most of the Right to Control pilot sites just to get the right people around the table and to start having the right kinds of conversations. Where most good progress was made was for people with mental health problems accessing employment support. The reason for this was because the then Community Mental Health Teams became the most common entry points into the Right to Control because of greater partnership working that had existing from before the Right to Control pilot started. Of course, change taking time is no great lesson, but it is one that bears repetition, especially when the current demands on public services in health and social care are so pronounced, and when numbers are seemingly the only way we can convince people of progress.

4. One of the biggest cultural barriers in the Right to Control is represented by the question: “Whose money is it anyway?” Reasonably often, local managers referred to budgets as “their money”, resulting in difficulties in pooling budgets or integrating them around individuals. It’s actually a very good question, and surfacing these types of questions and discussing them was seen to help progress towards the Right to Control’s aims.

5. User responses to the question of “whose money is it anyway?” are probably best captured by this paraphrase:

We don’t give a toss where the money comes from – we just want a life.

What enabled this voice to be heard was co-production of the Right to Control. Co-production itself was therefore a major driver in changing attitudes, which helped to create confidence, support and a shift in relationships and mindsets between “professionals” and “people”. (It’s worth noting the formal evaluation concluded co-production would last well beyond the life of the Right to Control pilots themselves – a point proven so far, writing from the distance of 18 months since the programme finished.)

The last three lessons from the Right to Control are strategic ones that should be cause for reflection at higher levels in local government, health bodies and central government.

6. The first is to recognise that funding streams need to be integrated locally because they are separated centrally, i.e. government is asking local areas to merge budgets that they themselves had split up in the first place. As a participant in the evaluation ruefully notes:

What we need to do is look at pooling budgets at a much higher strategic level. It’s very difficult to align funding streams once the money is allocated, if not impossible, so hence the focus on pooling budgets at a much higher level, to have the one-pot approach.

Anything that central agencies can do to integrate funding as soon as possible should be done is the lesson to take from this.

7. The second is to be consistent in the intentions and outcomes of the programme. The Right to Control started as a new legal right to support disabled people to have better lives; it ended (via the evaluation) with a decision that questioned its economic efficiency and impact on primarily social care measurements. What if the evaluation had captured stories from two sites about people with learning disabilities signing housing tenancies for the first time, or fifty people gaining employment because of direct control over funding they never knew was previously spent on them?

8. This links to the final lesson: the Right to Control didn’t connect politically at either a local or national level. The Right to Control squarely support two significant agendas that have existed since 2008 – prevailing attitudes to public services (the idea of empowered consumers) and the zeitgeist of austerity (more for less) – and yet remained unloved, to the point where it was ended and largely forgotten. Reflecting on why it didn’t connect and the roles that different people/organisations could have played in addressing is useful for any current or future change programme.

There are many other areas of learning that can be drawn from what the Right to Control did and didn’t achieve during its time. In the ones above I’ve drawn out the ones that seem most relevant to me for current and future public service reforms, not least of which is Integrated Personal Commissioning and what it seeks to achieve.

*I should note that I was involved in the Essex Right to Control Trailblazer.

Engaging people in adult social care and co-production: what’s the best evidence?

The voice and experience of people who use services in shaping and delivering adult social care has long been a preoccupation of mine. It’s so obvious a way of working and understanding to me that even now I’m bemused and confuddled more than I should be by how ubiquitous good engagement and co-production isn’t.

Anyway, I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write a bit about this for research in practice for adults (ripfa) as part of a forthcoming collection they’re producing. The focus is on what the evidence says about how properly involving people in the design and delivery of adult social care makes a difference (in whatever way and at whatever level).

As something of a geek I have a pretty good sense of what the best bits and sources of evidence are, but one person’s approach for this type of thing is never as good as that of the crowd. I was therefore hoping colleagues might share with me any evidence or practice they think it’s worth highlighting on engagement / co-production.

Any information is useful; if people could share any evidence in particular about the following, though, then that would be particularly great!

  • How do different groups want to be involved in social care delivery and design?
  • Which groups are at most risk of not having their voices heard, and how can we ensure they are included?
  • What should we do when people can’t, or don’t want to be involved in their own social care?
  • What’s the best evidence around on the involvement of individuals in their own care planning or assessment and general person-centred planning approaches?

Though the focus of the work is on adult social care, evidence is limited to just this area: stuff from the world of health is as useful as anything from social care.

Feel free to share via the comments here, via Twitter (I’m @rich_w) or via email (rich DOT watts AT ndti DOT org DOT uk).

Thanks in advance for anything anyone is able to share. As always, I’ll share back what is produced as a result of this work, as well as a collection of the best resources found and shared on this topic.

Following the money can support personalised payment mechanisms: exploring the health payment system

Alternative Guide to the NHS - from the King's Fund
Alternative Guide to the NHS – from The King’s Fund

Most discussion about health and social care is about how much money there is(n’t) in the system. Relatively little attention is given to how the money in health and social care flows through that system.

This post shares some extended thoughts on what we know about the payment system in health, how this has been applied to mental health and how, despite potential perils, we can use current and future payment system changes and extensions into social care to support personalisation.

It is a bit dense in places, but it hopefully gives a useful grounding in the payment system for those who’d like to know a bit more about it and the opportunities (and difficulties) it presents. The post is broken up into 3 parts: (1) How the health payment system works; (2) How the health payment system has been extended into mental health; and (3) The perils and opportunities of moving a health payment system into social care.

I. The health payment system

To understand how a system works a good rule of thumb is to follow the money. In large parts of the health service this is pretty easy to do because of the payment/tariff system (which used to be known as “Payment by Results”[1]).

The core building blocks of the payment system are currencies and tariffs. The currency defines the unit of healthcare for which a payment is made (i.e. the ‘what’, such as a hip replacement or cataract operation) and the tariff defines ‘how much’ for each currency (i.e. what will be paid).

Thus, for any person receiving any treatment in certain settings, the following basic process is followed:

  • Treatment occurs
  • Treatment is coded using separate classification systems for diagnoses and interventions
  • Grouping of treatment – a Healthcare Resource Grouping (HRG) is allocated based on clinical codes and other patient data
  • Tariff – The tariff price depends on HRG and type of admission, and there are a variety of tariff adjustments made
  • Payment – standard monthly payments are made in advance, based on activity plan. Actual activity transmitted from provider to commissioners adjusts these payments up or down

In its introduction to the payment system (from 2013) the Department of Health produced this useful diagram to explain the broad principles of how the payment system applied to Mrs Smith having twins, Mr Jones having an emergency hip replacement and how much their treatment costs.

PbR worked examples
Click to enlarge

To get to this point the payment system in health has evolved a lot since it was first introduced in 2003/4. That year this type of payment system made up around £100m of health spending (some 0.2% of relevant commissioner allocations); by 2011/12 it made up £28.9bn of health spending (32.4% of relevant commissioner allocations).

II. Extending the health payment system into mental health

For things that are relatively well defined (such as giving birth or hip replacements), a currency/tariff system is relatively easy to define. This is partly to do with how well the evidence base is developed: in health, NICE pathways exist http://pathways.nice.org.uk/ which outline exactly what should be done and when. (Here’s the pathway for multiple pregnancies and here’s the one for hip fractures.)

What if, though, we apply similar principles to areas where definitions or boundaries aren’t so easy to come across: mental health and social care?

In mental health, a lot of effort has already been made in this direction. All of the various mental health problems that people can have are divided up into 21 ‘clusters’ – a way of grouping people with mental health problems according to their needs, based on descriptions of characteristics of people who are assumed to have similar mental health support needs, and the level of resource needed to meet these needs. In mental health, these ‘clusters’ are the currency (i.e. the ‘what’, or the equivalent of hip replacements etc.).

If this were to follow the twins / hip replacement example, we would then allocate an amount of money to the treatment of someone in a particular cluster and all would, we hope, be sorted. In mental health, though, there are a whole range of other factors that affect what is or isn’t included in someone’s treatment. These factors include (but are not limited to):

  • Mental health episodes are more difficult to define and diagnoses are less clear-cut
  • There is less clinical consensus on optimal care pathways, making cost variations more pronounced. Even if there was a consensus on pathways, mental health support is not consistently available across the country, including where some types of support simply aren’t available
  • Interrelationships with physical health are complex, with mental health problems having a substantial impact on health conditions
  • Mental health problems typically imposes costs and benefits in non-health sectors
  • There are shortcomings in both the availability and quality of activity data for mental health, which make very difficult the development of robust remuneration
  • The evidence base for mental health interventions is far less developed than for traditional health interventions
  • The money that meets different elements of the support comes from different sources, most notably health and social care pots of money.

What this list of factors means is that the pathway and the payment are much harder to determine in mental health.

Efforts have been underway since 2010/11 to both define the typical pathways associated with each cluster and the prices that might be attached to them. Progress is very mixed, though: clustering people with mental health problems is required by central government, but payment isn’t yet compulsory – local areas can develop their own ways of arranging payment. Furthermore, the extent to which the new payment system in mental health has changed the nature of activity and the differences it has made in people’s lives is a moot point. A recent survey by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) (pdf) shared the views of health finance managers on progress regarding the mental health payment system. Findings included:

  • 84% reported commissioner understanding of the mental health payment system to be very poor, poor or fair
  • 60% reported cluster-based activity as having “no” financial impact
  • 70% reported that they still operated under a block contract with commissioners with a shadow tariff.

III. The opportunities and perils of moving a health payment system into social care

As it is in mental health, so the picture would be (even) more complicated in social care.

It isn’t yet the case that formal segmentation of the care population (to create ‘currencies’ and ‘clusters’), associated care pathways and prices have been developed. What we are starting to see, though, is a more concerted effort to define what we might typically expect from a social care pathway; this is mainly been driven through the NICE Collaborating Centre for Social Care (guidelines are being produced, for example, on the topics of home care and reablement). The drive to integration will also bring social care far more, perhaps fundamentally, under the aegis of agencies like Monitor and NHS England, who are jointly responsible for the payment system in health. CQC is, of course, already a joint regulatory body that operates across both health and social care.

In my personal view, and drawing on the experience in mental health, there are both perils and opportunities of bringing a health-type payment system into social care.

The biggest peril is that social care could be the less richer for such a payment system. This lost richness would be made up of a more medical focus in social care, painting a more black and white picture of people than the complexity and range of social care represents. Health is making attempts to shift away from this viewpoint (see, for example, the Coalition for Collaborative Care, Co4CC), but the experience in mental health suggests the practice of anything other than medical thinking related to payment systems is very hard to do.

There are, though, 4 positive opportunities we can take from any current or future attempts to develop currencies and payments in social care.

  1. Such a payment system begins to bridge the gaps (professional, language etc.) people from different professional backgrounds bring. Health and social care professionals start from very different technical positions, though aren’t different in what they seek to do for and with the people they support. Thinking about pathways and payments and trying to put them in place enables people across the piece to come together for a common goal, starting from where they currently respectively are
  2. Building standard national mechanisms won’t, I think, work. But providing a strong requirement to develop a local model, backed up by excellent guidance, support, encouragement and sharing of learning can help areas to create strong local health and social care economies through their common work to develop (if not produce) pathways and payments
  3. Attempts to build the picture will show where evidence is most needed in social care (and health). I am by no means advocating the unrealistic position that we should only spend money on models/interventions/supports backed up by ‘gold-standard’ evidence; but I am saying that knowing where more appropriate evidence is needed will help us to ensure more of what is available through social care is as effective as it can be in supporting people
  4. Perhaps the most exciting opportunity is that developing payments systems like this does much of the heavy lifting in identifying how much money is associated with the care and support of an individual. Even more exciting is the idea that such information would incorporate both health and social care provision. Once the amount is known it is then easier for an individual to take that resource as a Personal Budget / Personal Health Budget, with all the benefits we know are associated with this. After such work, the natural foundations for things like Integrated Personal Commissioning are then in place.

These are 4 reasons I could get behind.

Reforms in health and social care aren’t always renowned for their subtlety. What I’ve therefore endeavoured to do in this post is show how there are always opportunities in reforms – in this case, the payment system, with its currencies and tariffs  – that can be used to support a whole range of ends. Here, following the money provides a chance to bring health and social care people together and do much of the heavy lifting that personalisation through, for example personalised payment mechanisms, requires. Though this isn’t without its perils, as the experience in mental health shows, the opportunities aren’t too bad either.

Notes:

[1] – Back in 2013 I wrote an introductory guide to what was then Payment by Results in mental health. Though some of the technical information has been superseded by development since then (and on which a publication is forthcoming) most of the information in the guide remains useful. You can find it here.