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Understanding the co-production of care

Tony Hunter
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Technology can help share and disseminate vital knowledge and understanding

If you were to tell someone not involved in public services that integration can be supported by co-production, they’d probably think you were speaking a different language. So, time for a quick translation.

It’s often said that people don’t care whether they’re seeing someone from health or social care. They want seamless, joined-up services. And, as it’s early days for health and social care integration, there’s no better time to do it properly. This means including patients, users and carers at the heart of service design, delivery and review. That’s called co-production.

Let me introduce you to the ‘web of care’. It was created by Barbara Pointon, a carer-ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society. She says: “We are the experts in care, if you let us in.”

Her web takes the reader on a visual representation of the intricate relationships she has to manoeuvre through to support her husband, who has dementia. The couple are involved with professionals from GPs to district nurses, to a speech and language adviser, to social workers and a mattress technician.  

So, there’s plenty of reasons to integrate. The better care fund is the single pooled budget to support health and social care services to work more closely together in local areas. There is funding for this over the next two years. And the Integrated Care and Support Exchange is an online learning community focusing on integrated care, which supports people to make connections, share information and find answers to key challenges.

We all want to improve people’s lives. With more knowledge available and better technology around, people’s lives should be improved with the use of integration and co-production.

Ann Macfarlane is a campaigner and trustee at my organisation and she believes that even people with dementia can co-produce their care. She says that staff should check input from notes and contributions made for the wellbeing of people with dementia, and go on to provide options and choices, so that people are involved in day-to-day activities. She also believes that the use of digital technology can provide insights into their world that may have not been there before.

In fact, for co-production to flourish within integration work, technology could well be helpful, if included in the mix. A recent lively webinar discussion saw an agreement that technology shouldn’t just be about what is “handed out” to patients, carers and users.

One participant in the webinar pointed out that one of the biggest assets that patients, users and carers have, is the knowledge of their conditions and how to manage them successfully. He says that technology can help share and disseminate this knowledge and understanding, both between people and those supporting them.

My predecessor at SCIE, Andrea Sutcliffe, starred in one of our films called “Have I got co-production news for you”. This quiz looks at many issues relating to co-production, but Andrea tackled the co-production/integration question. She says in the video that: “co-production drips from our DNA”.

These days she’s the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of adult social care and it’s great to know that integration and co-production are so important for the CQC.

Other participants in that film, and its panel quiz format, are adamant that co-production amounts to much more than “just sitting in on the meeting”.

Co-production offers the possibility to transform services, if professionals listen to each other and adapt their activities accordingly. It needs to begin with those people, included at the start of the process, and then have them involved in every step of that process.

This is a challenge, but there’s only one way forward, to support people like Barbara, in her web of care that she uses to support her husband.

Tony Hunter, chief executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence, and former chief executive, North East Lincolnshire Council

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