Q&A: Birmingham City Council’s Peter Hay talks transforming care services through an e-Marketplace (Part 1)

Image: Birmingham Mail

Last week, Birmingham City Council partnered with Agilisys Care to host a webinar about ‘Transforming Care Services through an e-Marketplace’. The webinar explored how Birmingham City Council has developed an e-Marketplace as part of its long-term digital strategy.

The webinar spawned a highly engaged discussion about the challenges of health and social care and how an e-Marketplace has transformed the sector. In a Q&A with Digital by Default News, Peter Hay picks up on some of the remaining questions from webinar attendees and talks more about technological innovation in health and social care.

Click here to listen to the on-demand webinar.


Question: How self-sufficient is your e-marketplace?

Peter: It requires support; it has to be kept ‘fed and watered’ to ensure it is kept up to date and current. We also put a great deal of work in early on, in engaging and on-boarding providers so that MCiB (My Care in Birmingham) would work as a marketplace.

We’ve added in things, for example in relation to children’s special educational needs – the important thing is to work at making sure all the details of provision that might be met are on the marketplace. The main issue, I think, around sustainability, is for the council to have a clear view of what it wants to achieve from the marketplace and what services/provision it wants to offer.


And to follow up: from a service user perspective, if a need is identified, can a user then self-serve to identify and purchase a service on the e-marketplace which integrates with the social care and finance system?

Yes, they can certainly identify and buy goods and services – equally, if they choose not to buy, they can choose to assess, and see what buying options there are. We don’t currently integrate with our finance system – that’s what we’d like to develop in future.


Councils and the market haven’t had a great track record in providing sustainable, high-quality home care; can individual purchasing solve the inherent problems in this system?

I think this question is very topical, with last Tuesday’s UKHCA publication on the issues facing public funding in home care; one of the things the news coverage highlighted was a digital organisation called Somerset Care.  They are very clear about the subsidies across their range of services and the amount needed from self-funding sources. And I think that’s the reality – however much we like it or don’t like it – of some of the big provisioning.

Certainly at Birmingham we’ve got a market with a number of home care players, there are then a large number of organisations providing a range of other services – different types of home and domestic services such as home care, cleaning and maintenance and that kind of thing.

The reality of the current economic climate means that we are trying to help providers with their sustainability – there was some fantastic work I saw in North Yorkshire, for example, where small care homes had been helped to think about how they could use the totality of their resources –  things like kitchens or their larger communal rooms so that the offer wasn’t just about the number of beds, but actually a total resource.

I think we need to approach the market with that breadth of view, and encourage providers to be pitching so that sustainability is taken in the broadest possible sense. All sides need to think about the issues facing us today, and how we might all work through that together.


How are you encouraging innovative, enabling technology providers to become part of your marketplace – for example, Internet of Things telecare?

We use the same techniques as you would use for any marketplace. We engage in open dialogue with providers to understand what they can do and use these conversations to help shape our requirements.

And I think also part of that is about being approachable – “These are our needs, these are our challenges, and we’re always open to talk them through.”


What’s important to ensure that initiatives like this are owned right across the organisation?

I think it would be really helpful if we could start to develop a set of outcome measures that can be tracked with the individuals we are helping. I think we’re a bit stuck at the moment, in that the outcomes tend to sit within the service – they tend to be about adult social care, rather than about the life of older people within Birmingham. It’s a great question – it’s incredibly difficult to pull off, and I’m not quite sure that any council has got it right just yet.

We’re trying to do a great deal of work here at the moment on our priorities and values, and how we would measure them – to move to an outcome framework. But the things we measure and our data at the moment tends to be about those things that impact funding, e.g. delayed transfers, and all that kind of stuff.

I’d like to see the day where I get sacked because I have failed to achieve outcomes for people! For example, in relation to poor quality housing that could have been avoided – but I’m much more likely to be sacked for over-spending or delayed transfers.


How important is technology to the asset-based approach to social care?

I think digital’s got a huge part to play in that shift to information being power, and allowing us to engage in a completely different way, equalising the way that people can access support. For example, all the data we get about how carers seek support in the small hours of the night – that’s hugely powerful. Technology has made that possible, and a nine to five service could never have done that.

If you look at the campaign led in relation to Connor Sparrowhawk, you can see the way in which social media can be used to create a momentum around service change – I know this was at the point of something that had gone tragically wrong, but it’s essentially a power shift enabled by digital technology, and through different sorts of communication.

How can we engage with people so that they can help us co-produce? Digital is a really important part of that.


What is important to maintain a healthy pool of providers?

You’ve got to think about your marketplace, and what markets you are trying to shape – are you just interested in how to choose residential care home beds? Or are you interested in a breadth of offers to enable people to be sustained in life outside of the care home?

Both are legitimate options, you need to carefully think through the positioning of what you want your marketplace to be and what you’re trying to achieve with it.

Click here to read the second part of this Q&A, or click here to listen to the webinar again.

Related reading