Everyone in the UK has a right to expect safe, compassionate and effective care. But a perfect storm has been brewing for some time. Largely created by economic cuts, frontline care workers have been doing more with less for some time now. With demand for services continuing to rise, many providers are struggling to cope. The crisis has led some in the NHS to conclude that “the sector needs a long-term plan and significant investment”.
However, against this challenging backdrop, there are some providers who are showing themselves to be role models for efficiency and productivity – while at the same time maintaining the highest standards of care.
Take Premier Care, a domiciliary care agency operating in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire, for example. Rated as ‘good’ by the CQC, it’s a relatively small organisation, but it’s one that is punching well above its weight.
With just 350 staff, Premier Care collectively provides 6,000 hours of care each week to its 660 clients. Astonishingly, that equates to around 11,000 visits each week. The question is how has it become so efficient without ever needing to compromise on high quality care?
“The answer,” says Charlotte Lumley, the agency’s Head of Community Innovation, “lies in technology.” Charlotte, who has worked in the care sector for 16 years in a variety of senior managerial positions, joined Premier Care eight months ago. During that time, she’s managed both private sector companies and local authority providers. The one common theme that stands out,” she says, “is that technology is an enabler, that can drive improvement and efficiency.”
But there’s the rub. Charlotte says that before technology can begin to solve problems, “you first have to know what they are”. Therefore, before deciding to introduce a new system, Premier Care’s managerial team spent many hours collecting feedback from registered managers and the carers themselves.
Charlotte says, “Staff are our most important resource. Any new system we employ must enable carers to provide an even greater level of care to clients than before. Secondly, it must provide answers to help us solve our greatest challenges, which revolve around recruitment, retention and ensuring compliance,” she adds.
Take a domiciliary care worker’s compliance responsibilities, for instance. There are thousands of policies, procedures and protocols, all of which are constantly being updated, that they must stay on top of. The greatest challenge, therefore, for small-to-medium-sized providers (SMEs) like Premier Care, who do not have access to a large policy writing team, lies in accessing and implementing the right content necessary to deliver exceptional care.
Premier Care’s senior management team has solved the problem by partnering with Quality Compliance Systems (QCS) one of the UK’s largest content management providers.
Says Charlotte, “It was an easy decision to make to be honest. Not only does QCS spend thousands of hours writing policies, it’s team immediately notifies us when an area of regulation changes. We’re sent the updated policy which means we never have to worry about compliance. That’s incredibly important to us, as are the additional expert insights provided by QCS around policy and procedure…”
Charlotte highlights complicated procedures such as Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG) feeding, for instance. She says that QCS’s “belt and braces approach” has helped staff to approach these daunting tasks with renewed confidence.
She explains, “It’s not that QCS provides the actual PEG training. It does ensure a high level of quality assurance and gives our carers peace of mind that the procedures being employed are the right ones and are up-to-date. It also provides a comprehensive suite of post-training documents, plus a step-by-step training guide, which really helps to reinforce staff knowledge…”
Secondly, in a sector where client’s needs are as complex as they are varied, Charlotte notes that sometimes “there’s not always a policy that covers Premier Care’s exact requirements”.
“Whenever this happens,” she says, “we just call QCS’s policy team and they write us a new policy and procedure.”
But Charlotte, who worked for Helping Hands Homecare before joining Premier Care, says that what sets QCS apart, is the flexibility it affords carers and managers.
She explains, “We work with three different local authorities, each of which employs its own safeguarding policy. By using QCS’s technology we can create different policies and procedures for each local area, safe in the knowledge that the information that we rely on is correct and up-to-date.”
Other benefits of the technology are the enhanced “accessibility and scalability” that the technology gives to carers. Charlotte explains, “The QCS system works particularly well in domiciliary care because staff are often on their own and working in remote areas. If they have a policy query while out on a visit, they can easily refer to the QCS app. On the app, our carers love the fact that the policies have been re-written using easy-to-understand language, and are broken down into easily digestible chunks. This saves them a lot of time as it means they can focus on the relevant part of a particular policy or procedure – as and when they need to.”
Finally, with Premier Care expanding its reach into South Yorkshire, Charlotte adds that the QCS’s compliance management system has proved invaluable when bidding for new contracts.
She says, “QCS forms an active part of the bidding process and it’s playing a key role in growing the business. When we’re writing tenders, for example, we’re often asked to provide specific information regarding protocol. For example, a typical question might be ‘what does our medication policy look like?’
She continues, “Local authorities also want to be sure that we’re meeting legal frameworks and staff are well-versed in policies and procedure. QCS also provides us with an invaluable source of information and expert opinion, which makes our tender stronger. That saves us time because the information we need for tender writing is easily accessible.”
And the future? With further cuts expected, if used correctly, Premier Care is living proof that technology can help domiciliary care staff to deliver outstanding and compassionate care. It also offers a gateway to increased efficiency and productivity, which Charlotte thinks “could, in the long run, prove the best defence against a culture of deep and damaging cuts”.