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Guest blog from Ewan King, Chief Operating Officer at the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

In January along with our partners Think Local Act Personal we launched the DHSC-funded Care Innovation Network.  Our goal is to answer this question: “How do we take proven person-centred models of care and support and bring them to more people?”

Locality leaders report that bringing the best to scale has perhaps been hindered for many reasons, in particular a short-term approach to funding, parochialism, lack of long-term planning - and regulatory barriers. But good initiatives have also failed to spread because statutory bodies have not always sufficiently engaged with others, especially the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) and citizens and communities.  More engagement would support both the establishment of more innovative forms of care, and also their growth and expansion.

Alex Fox, CEO of Shared Lives Plus, in his review of VCSE’s involvement in delivering care, bemoaned the sector’s often peripheral role.  He wrote: “Through drawing on people power as well as money, VCSE organisations are often uniquely able to offer support which looks at the whole person and whole family, thinking preventatively and whole-lifetime”. Moreover, VCSE organisations are increasingly creative in accessing resources such as social finance, and then applying different business models - such as franchising - to grow services.

The Care Innovation Network seeks an alternative route to growth of what works. In our network, we have many VCSE providers - like Shared Lives, Local Area Coordination and Stay up Late, so that they are part of the way forward from the outset. Working alongside us, applying co-production principles, are people with the experience of using services and their carers, so that solutions are well thought through, tested, and more likely to achieve the intended benefits of better experiences and outcomes.

Many of the innovations the network is encouraging support people with multiple long-term conditions. They do this by using a strengths-based conversation to find out about people’s goals, networks and aspirations; and then by connecting them to a range of local opportunities and networks. This could be health coaching, a peer support group for people with heart conditions, depression or diabetes; and self-care resources. 

In our publication with Nesta on innovations, we describe Mike’s story.  Mike, aged 73, spent most of his working life in the petroleum industry, surrounded by petrol fumes. He now has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the most common lung condition among older people, and also has high blood pressure. Mike used to feel as if he was the only one suffering from COPD, but everything changed about five years ago, when his GP mentioned a local Breathe Easy peer support group for people living with lung conditions.

He was really surprised at how much he liked being in a group environment – it made him feel that he wasn’t ‘on his own’. He also found the information and support from the health professionals helpful. In a matter of months, Mike’s symptoms improved dramatically – particularly as he really enjoyed joining the weekly walking group and choir

This is just one example of the benefits of different parts of the system working together to tailor care to the individual. This is especially important for those with multiple conditions.

So, increasingly we know what good looks like, and in pockets we are seeing the benefits through creative ways of commissioning and delivering care. But we now need to be more ambitious; the best innovation needs to be available to everyone! The VCSE can be central to realising that vision.