Thursday, 2 August 2012

The puzzle of personalisation: understanding the possibilities and potential

Written by Richard Hazledine, Consultant at ConnectMore Solutions and member of East Midlands Health and Social Care Network Steering Group

At a time of funding cuts personalisation represents a new area where voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations can potentially develop new sources of income. There are strong arguments to promote the personalisation ideals of ‘choice’ and ‘control’ for users of health and social care services in terms of increased independence, confidence and wellbeing.

Whilst the potential exists for providers to develop new and innovative ways to deliver services it can be difficult for organisations to understand the journey they need to undertake to prepare for personalisation. This is arguably because so many organisations are used to funding through grants or Local Authority block contracts. The process to secure the custom of personal budget holders is not really like either of these traditional sources of funding.   

To help VCS organisations consider the possibilities of personalisation this article seeks to explore six key questions that organisations should consider in any appraisal of their potential to deliver services for personal budget holders? 

1.Do the people we support meet the eligibility criteria for a personal budget?  This is the starting point for most organisations to understand if they are well placed to work with personal budget holders. Local Authorities define the eligibility criteria for personalisation against the Fair Access Care (FACs) criteria. Understanding the criteria is the first step that your organisation should take to ascertain the strength of the connection between your existing service user group and emerging personal budget holders. Typically authorities will be looking to identify ‘critical’ and ‘substantial’ needs to meet the eligibility criteria. These needs will usually be found in older people 65+ those with physical, learning and sensory disabilities and users of mental health services.  

2.Do we know what services personal budget holders will actually want to purchase? Once organisations understand that there is a market to provide support services to personal budget holders the next question to consider is what services are these individuals likely to request? If your organisation cannot answer this question then appropriate consultation should take place with service users to gain more clarity. Ideally your organisation should understand the principles of person centred planning to ascertain this information. Consultation conducted appropriately at this stage will also provide clues on how to market your services.

3. Do we understand how to market our services? In order to effectively market your services organisations should understand what is important to service users and wider influencers of the decision making process (families, carers and professionals). Price, whilst important, may not be the primary consideration for personal budget holders. Factors such as credibility, reliability, location, peer interaction, qualified staff and the provision of services which provide opportunities to develop new confidence, skills and independence may also influence the final decision to choose a particular provider. 

4.Do we understand how to price our services? In a world of personalisation all providers will be expected to price services individually. Developing chargeable services represents a big change for many VCS organisations. Traditionally the work of many organisations has been financed through block contracts from the Local Authority. In future these arrangements will become less commonplace as organisations prepare to cost and price services for individuals at unit cost/price levels. These are significant changes for many VCS organisations which will in turn place new demands on personnel working in finance functions.  

5.Do we understand how our back-office functions will support personalisation? In addition to pricing considerations organisations will need to restructure their financial systems to cope with the requirements of personalisation. Traditionally block contract or grant funding arrangements are underpinned by a relatively small number of infrequent transactions with a funder.  To be ready for personalisation providers should be prepared to maintain individual contractual and financial arrangements with each personal budget holder. This in turn is likely to entail a significant increase in the number of invoices processed each financial year. Similarly, there will be a need to agree appropriate payment terms with each personal budget holder.

6.Do we have a plan to invest in our staff teams? At the heart of personalisation is the need for person centred planning and chargeable service provision. In the world of personalisation the service user becomes the commissioner. This in turn means changed relationships for staff and service users. Therefore organisations should consider appropriate training, support and encouragement for staff to understand why and how it is necessary to navigate these changes.

These are no small changes for many VCS organisations. The organisations that make the appropriate plans to restructure their services can begin to embark on a new journey with personal budget holders. The process is likely to reshape the culture affecting the way that many organisations operate and an ability to manage change is crucial. Emerging evidence suggests that personalisation can become the primary source of income for many organisations working intensively with vulnerable individuals. At a time when many organisations are seriously reviewing their future sustainability personalisation is therefore one opportunity that requires serious consideration.

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