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Growing innovation in social care

Alex Fox and Ewan King

In this blog, Alex Fox, Chief Executive of Shared Lives Plus and Ewan King, Director of Business Development and Delivery at the Social Care Institute for Excellence discuss a growing network of innovators in social care.

  • Person-centred care

In a year of real political turmoil, it’s perhaps not surprising that some pieces of legislation have been put on hold, which has sadly recently included the Social Care Green Paper. It’s easy to feel that the sector is in limbo whilst it waits for Government to set out its vision. But any delay shouldn’t – and mustn’t – stop the drive to grow innovative approaches to care and support. There are many reasons for this, but funding is the top one.

Local government faces a £3.56 billion gap between its costs and its projected income by 2025, with local leaders consistently telling us that the options for finding more savings whilst improving services are forever narrowing.

The good news is that the Long Term Plan for the NHS has now been launched and almost every goal in it depends on social care in some way. It has a welcome focus on providing personalised care across the health and care system. Personalised care and support, when provided effectively, sees people having choice and control over the way their care is planned and delivered, based on what matters most to them and their individual strengths, networks, needs and preferences.

Innovation already exists

As we argued in our report with the innovation foundation Nesta, our sector already has innovative, person-centred models of care which are proven to work. Some of these were showcased last November at the Social Care Future event, which was a gathering of people committed to finding better, more personalised and community-led ways to deliver social care.

Social Care Future was a great example of our sector not just waiting for leadership, but looking to the grassroots for inspiration, with Experts-by-Experience and local leaders grasping the nettle and coming together as equals to discuss the most promising ways forward. A particular challenge we face is enabling the rapid growth of models which thrive on working at a personal and community level; bringing them from the margins to the mainstream at a time when there is no slack in the system.

Examples from York to Somerset

We know things can be done, however. York’s Local Area Coordination initiative has helped to reduce demand for formal care packages. The intergenerational South London Cares model is now being replicated in a number of key cities and is successfully reducing social isolation; Leeds council’s asset-based and co-produced approach to supporting older people is reducing hospital admissions. Somerset and Community Catalysts are taking very small community enterprises which provide homecare to older people, and rather than trying to grow each enterprise, are growing the number of small enterprises; now well over 100.

But too many promising initiatives remain small-scale or disappear entirely when pilot money runs out.

New innovation network

A new Social Care Innovation Network, led by SCIE, Think Local Act Personal and Shared Lives Plus will help local areas take approaches which work. Funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, the Innovation Network and Practice Exchange will bring a combination of innovative providers, commissioners and citizens together to identify ways to support each other to grow innovations at scale, building on Social Care Future and other initiatives.

We will start with a small group of innovators and commissioners, identifying, for instance, what learning or resources could be shared across social innovations which are all facing similar scaling challenges. From this we intend to build a self-supporting movement committed to bringing the best care and support to more people.

Times are very tough for social care. We all know we need more investment and more leadership from central government, to match its recent ten year ambitions for the NHS. But we cannot wait for that to happen. We need to start building a more innovative future now.