Yesterday, I caught up with a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen for a few months. She works in commissioning. She didn’t work in commissioning when we first met but her career trajectory has taken a few odd side steps and there she is.
We talked about commissioning for a while. She doesn’t work in a part of commissioning that affects the services that would be delivered by my part of the service so I felt fairly safe moving into rant mode as I spoke to her.
I wondered, to her, why the process of commissioning is so far removed from the frontline service delivery.
But there are service user consultations, she added. Yes, I replied but they are narrow in scope and where are the voices of those who do not ‘self-select’ themselves on ‘panels’. Where are the voices of those who may not have the capacity to make some of the decisions related to their care needs? Where are the voices of the carers who don’t actually have the ability to leave their homes because of the lack of appropriate respite – particularly older carers? Where are the voices of the voiceless?
She had a good comeback of course and spoke to me about the reams of additional advocacy support she is involved with but it made my heart sink.
You see, all advocacy apart from statutory IMCAs (Independent Mental Capacity Advocates) and IMHAs (Independent Mental Health Advocates) have been withdrawn from the services that I work in. The voluntary sector agencies that might have helped have either been axed or cut back sufficiently that they won’t ‘work with’ people who enter our services.
But back to the commissioners. I wonder why I didn’t know the name of any of the people involved in commissioning services for our local authority in the user group I work with. Why don’t they come to our team and meet with us and talk to us, I suggested to my friend, while, of course, absolving her personally – I know she is both good at her job and dedicated to providing good quality services.
Surely we, who are involved in scoping out support plans, making suggestions about which care agencies might be better than others, we who receive the day to day complaints when services aren’t available or aren’t working, would be useful people for commissioners to engage with? But I don’t even know the names of the people who work in commissioning the services we are asked to use.
They make block contracts on the basis of cost which deliver poorly. Yet when renewal time came around, exactly the same contracts were dished out. Perhaps we should meet and discuss our respective jobs a little more often.
I feel angry towards the unnamed commissioners in our service. I feel angry because they drop services on us which are basically unsuitable but cheap. They say they ‘consult’ but as I have learnt over my time in the job, ‘consult’ does not mean discuss, it means tell.
I wonder how many of these faceless ‘commissioners’ would be happy to stand alongside me in a hospital as I tell a family they will have to travel miles each way to visit their parent in a residential home because we have nothing available locally. Or stand next to me as I apologise, in my role as a corporate ‘entity’ because the provision of respite which was promised is wholly unsuitable because its all we have to offer. Or listen to the conversations I have to take about carers rushed off their feet because they are limited to these ‘15 minute’ pop-in visits to desperately lonely people or listen to the discussions about why we no longer do a hot meals on wheels service and deliver only microwaveable meals. Occasionally, I’ve been known to tap out a grumbly email to ‘commissioning’ about particular services – and why I think they work or what I think is lacking – simply because I am not sure what other action to take and I want to ‘do something’. I’ve never really had anything other than perfunctory responses. They seem to exist in a parallel universe of contracts and submissions and plans.
Who was consulted before these commissioning decisions were made? I’m sure people were. Or were they? What backgrounds to ‘commissioners’ have in human services – I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if they have ever had any professional expertise in the areas that they commission for or have just moved up through various administrative ranks without any frontline experience.
I know ‘back office’ is important. I know there are some people that need to commission services. I understand that. I just wish sometimes I knew who they were and the ways that they made their decisions. I wish sometimes they would show their collective faces in our offices to understand better the implications of the decisions they make.
I’m very far from an expert in organisational systems but surely it can only help when different parts of a ‘group’ come to know each other face to face through discussion and understanding rather than the continual barriers that are put up between us by people who feel it necessary to stay in their safe silos.
I don’t want to mistrust commissioners. I just want to know who they are. More importantly, I want to know they understand the effect of their decisions on the people I see every day.