A number of councils in the UK are demanding that third party care providers purchase expensive tracking solutions, despite the existence of cheaper alternatives, according to the results of Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Skillweb.
The mobile solutions provider submitted FOI requests to 147 councils across the country, of which 98 responded.
While each council requires care to be tracked, it was found that not all allow companies to choose their own solution.
This means care providers are forced to purchase software that is known to be expensive to implement, putting pressure on businesses at a time when budgets have already been significantly reduced.
The inspiration behind the FOI request
Speaking about why Skillweb chose to send the FOI request, Amy Quayle market research manager at the company, explained:
“We have been innovating technology for domiciliary care over the past couple of years. While these solutions have been enthusiastically received as attractive to use, many home care managers have revealed that they have to compulsorily use named solutions by their local authorities (LAs). This was identified as troubling for some managers that tendered their services to multiple authorities, those that already had a contract with a competing (and often similar) provider and for those that felt they could be paying over the odds for the stipulated service.
“We were concerned that home care companies were being stifled from using technology solutions that were fit for purpose but could deliver better value to the business.
“Other issues that we saw with current systems required was that LAs were only asking for the solution to track time of care and not outcomes, so there is still a lot of paper based reporting and evidencing still being maintained which is reducing the time for care and reducing the financial capabilities of home care organisations.
“We saw a value in finding out how many LAs stipulated time and outcome tracking, how many stipulated a specific solution and why to identify how domiciliary care organisations could take advantage of new technology as well as to give insight to local government in aiding a procurement process for third party organisations which is disadvantaging many smaller organisations that are having to deliver more for less.”
Ninety-eight (100 per cent) of councils that responded to the FOI request require the amount of time care workers spend with patients to be tracked.
Seventy-three (74 per cent) demand care outcomes are also tracked.
Thirty (31 per cent) councils have a commissioned electronic call monitoring (ECM) system.
Twenty-nine (30 per cent) stipulate that third party sector organisations use their ECM.
Twenty-two (22 per cent) do specify requirements for ECMs but do not name.
Thirteen (13 per cent) of councils are still looking to tender traditional ECMs this year.
One council requests remote access to third party care companies’ ECM systems.
Two councils found that most providers already had an ECM in place and made the decision not to commission services.
One council claimed its domiciliary care companies will procure their own ECMs this year, but it previously commissioned a service to be used by all.
One council had issues with clients refusing use of their telephones for telephone-based ECM operating systems.
One council said the current solutions offered under the framework agreement were too expensive for most care companies and it was now considering allowing providers to procure their own.
What this means
Currently the largest barrier to LAs enacting a more open procurement process is the use of Framework Agreements. The feature sets for framework specifications are often written for enterprise solutions, which include a wealth of functions (landline based electronic call monitoring, mobile electronic call monitoring, scheduling, invoicing, purchasing, expenses, database tools which can be purchased separately).
These types of product are perfect for large scale enterprise or LA use where the purchase amount is above the public sector tender amount, however, most are not suited to often smaller home care companies. However, many councils demand care providers use an expensive, stipulated ECM system.
Care providers have stated that if they had the choice to invest in a low-cost system, they could achieve better value for money, while ensuring they have access to the latest technologies to upscale services.
The anomalies in the report deliver insight into how care providers can challenge and change perceptions of commissioning for third party workforces. One notable factor is that in the test group, many thought that their LA stipulated mandatory use of the commissioned software but, after receiving answers from the FOI request, it has been found that this isn’t the case. In at least two cases, this misunderstanding was the result of poor communication.
What Skillweb thinks
Ms Quayle said: “The social care landscape is changing rapidly due to reduced funding for the services alongside strong public needs for higher quality care. Care providers have to be flexible in both providing public funded places with private funded care placements in order to be efficient and many are successfully pursuing that model. If local authorities continue to stipulate specific, named technologies they are in danger of stifling innovation to provide quality services. For local authorities the responsibility of procuring, maintaining and supporting their third party home care systems is removed, however, the correct information should still be accessible to their current solutions.
“Adoption of the right solution for both parties can achieve significant cost benefits for both parties and ultimately can lead to more transparency of information relating not just to time devoted to being with a service user, but ultimately being able to evidence a greater amount of care while there.”