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People are the priority in working out new ways to provide social care

Column by Councillor Beccy Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care
Published: 17 Jan 2023

Anyone who has had even a cursory look through this year's County Council budget recommendations, will have seen some large savings associated with adult social care under the heading of "Transformation". So, I thought I would talk a little bit about what this means and why it really shouldn’t be looked at as just a money saving exercise.

Adult social care has been successful over the last 5 years at finding new and innovative ways of working. Of course, right in the middle of that was the need to work entirely differently during the pandemic, but beyond that, teams across the council have been outstanding at finding new ways to deliver the very best care they can, whilst at the same time managing to save around £33M so far which has been used to support other services under pressure.

Let me be clear - value for money matters, especially when you consider that with the additional money recommended to be invested this year, adult social care will have a net budget of £326M - that is over half of the entire County Council net budget. Every penny spent in adult social care could potentially support a child with special educational needs, help maintain the road and infrastructure of the county, or support any of the other essential services the council provides, so yes - the money really does matter. However, I assure you saving money is never the main focus of finding new ways of working in adult social care. That has always been, and will always be, to do all we can to help people to live fulfilling and independent lives in their community.

So when the council talks about transformation within the budget recommendations, what exactly do some of those new ways of working look like? One of the best examples of working in a new way, that not only provides better care for people but also saves money, would be our Cassius digital care service. Cassius was created in partnership with leading technology experts 18 months ago. We’ve achieved an incredible amount since the launch, with over 2,500 referrals and currently around 1,900 people being supported with care technology either as part of their package of care or as a standalone way to help them live well. This has helped maintain their independence, boosted their confidence, and given peace of mind to their families - truly incredible outcomes for people. But Cassius has also been able to generate over £2.5m worth of savings by using technology to better manage people's care needs, delaying or avoiding entirely more expensive traditional care options.

Another new way of working, included within this year's proposed budget, is to explore the use of some simple technology to better monitor the time spent by carers during home care visits. Our hope is that this will ensure carers are spending the correct time with people. This technology is already used by some private care providers, and widening this out could potentially benefit others who would be able to better manage the rotas and routines of their own staff. It will certainly benefit the people being cared for, who will always get the care and support they need and are entitled to. At the same time the council would be able to ensure people are well looked after, whilst also only paying for the care that is being delivered, getting best value for money for the taxpayer.

I am really proud to say that in all my discussions with officers over the various transformations happening within adult social care in Suffolk, I am constantly impressed with their eagerness to find better ways to support people. For them the person and family receiving the care and support is always their first priority.

Sometimes others like to portray the budget process as a pure numbers game, where investment is good, and savings are bad. They create a myth that services can only be improved if you just spend more money on them. Well that simply isn't the case, certainly not in Suffolk. This year, if the budget gets approved next month, we will be spending over £30M more on adult social care, but most of that new money will be used to support the care sector with inflationary pressures and helping to provide higher care fees. Ultimately, it will be the various transformation programmes, those exciting new ways of working, that will be the catalyst for better services and even better care for the people of Suffolk, and I for one am looking forward to seeing them develop and grow.