Q&A: Birmingham City Council’s Peter Hay talks transforming care services through an e-Marketplace (Part 2)

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 the second part of this Q&A with Digital by Default News, Peter Hay picks up on some of the remaining questions from webinar attendees, and talks more about engaging providers and the achievements of My Care in Birmingham.

Click here to listen to the on-demand webinar, or here to read the first part of the Q&A.


Question: What approaches have you used to encourage both private and community providers to get engaged?

Peter: This comes back to the question about what’s your ongoing commitment and investment – you’ve got to put the work into helping providers with this; we’ve done a lot of engagement events with providers both large and small to encourage them to be involved.

What has been effective for us is consistency of communication, offers to be involved, and where necessary – particularly at the community events – how to make that bridge and support that involvement.


Many partners contribute services projects and support to individuals and communities; I’ve tried to create a directory of housing teams and services for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and know how complex even one issue can get. Do you think it’s a good idea to co-produce an online tool for residents, carers and professionals for health, social care, housing, the community and the voluntary sector?

Yes, absolutely. I think one of the great things about electronic marketplaces is that it acts as a life-long service directory. In the days when we were compiling directories, they would very quickly get out of date. The marketplace – because people are coming through it and using it seriously, with a vested interest – providers want to be on the marketplace and have a vested interest in ensuring it is kept up to date; word has travelled fast about the value of being on it!

So you do get away from the directory concept; instead you have an online tool, where everyone’s engaged with it. And residents are finding use for that – they’re saying ‘Hang on, we need to get others involved in this too.’ And that helps to create that virtual service.

What’s interesting about this question is that it comes from the housing angle; I absolutely think that housing is part of the e-Marketplace. Thinking about the housing needs of people, broadly and early, is  one of the biggest challenges of all. I would encourage Sue to keep thinking this through.  From our own experience, trying to find people who’ve already got a significant health need who will move is really difficult.

When you’ve got a long-term condition, your independence is absolutely embodied in your current housing. There is no way you’re coming out of that house, because you’re clinging to it as a symbol that you’re able to live with whatever your condition is. And that choice of housing makes such a huge difference. How do we create and promote that so that we’re not responding to effectively a housing problem, as a point of care or health problem?

I really would encourage that thinking, and how we can join that up.


Numerous reports tell us that the number of older people using the internet is growing. If these reports are right, are local authorities behind the curve in establishing new models of digital care services? And what are the barriers to them introducing such services?

We were relatively surprised by the number of older people who are using My Care in Birmingham – and we have put work into helping people to use technology e.g. people who have conditions such as autism. We’ve also been encouraging people to use things like iPads as tools to communicate.

For a lot of older people, laptop technology in particular is hugely helpful it supports basic communication with families and grandchildren and makes a huge difference to lives; a lot of people are being introduced to it within their family, and are then confident enough to use it elsewhere.

Councils may be underestimating how much use [of these technologies] is being made by older people – that’s absolutely right. You’d be surprised how many people are. I think that councils need to embrace it more – that’s the assumption behind the question, and I agree with it.


Customer or citizen? Is it an accountability manifesto or a consumer’s charter that will be implemented for managing failures of service?

I think it’s important that you do think through, as a council, what you are seeking to achieve. We were very clear about creating a citizen service that would enable everyone to have access to information. Power of information is really important.

Does coming on to an e-marketplace make you a customer? In part, it does. You are in effect becoming a consumer of services – but as I said, the council should be clear about what its overarching responsibilities are for quality, sustainability, all of those kind of things. You are in fact partially controlling the marketplace, so you have some responsibility. It’s got your name on it.

However, it’s not a whole-scale transfer to a consumer world – that’s why it’s really important for councils to remember about market shaping and to reflect this in the electronic marketplace. What are the rules of the game, and how do you want to influence and shape them? These need to be things that people are thinking through.


You have achieved a great deal with My Care in Birmingham – what will you be doing next to grow and embed the principles and values you’ve talked about today?

We’re taking stock of everything – where we are now; our [sustainable] transformation plan, and moving to that next step of health and social care integration.

When it comes to digital technology and the power of information, they’ve got to be part of the debate about the values of that ‘whole system’ change. The answer to that is twofold: there may inevitably have to be short-term actual change to the council in relation to how we manage our own sustainability. And then I think there’s a longer-term strategic issue: how does this form part of a revised health and care offer? And what does that system need to look like? And that’s where this gets really challenging.

The understanding of co-production, citizen involvement; all of that kind of stuff is way off the curve, in the NHS side; this is tricky stuff. This is going to be the biggest platform to drive a sustainable place across health and care. We’ve got a long way to go on that – and local government’s got a lot to bring to help the NHS think about the world outside hospitals and how that needs to change.

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