As we count down the days to Christmas and the New Year, many people start preparing their New Year's resolutions. It's in this spirit that we lay down the gauntlet and ask the public, private and not for profit organisations in health and social care to resolve to make 2015 their year of change and collaboration.
We'd like policy makers and providers to stop talking about the crisis of older age, and the 'challenges' our ageing population present for creaking systems and strained budgets. Instead, we ask their energies be redirected into collaborating with and supporting the market innovators. These are the firestarters who will overhaul the system, providing greater experiences for older people and better solutions for the commissioners.
Typically market innovators are entrepreneurs in start-ups or smaller organisations. They are more nimble, prepared to take risks, and are willing to agitate for change. In contrast, large companies are "cash rich but innovation poor" as explained by American venture capitalist Sam Hogg in an article for Entrepreneur magazine where he wrote:
Start-ups [can] beg, borrow and barter, large companies follow established processes, protocol and prices to accomplish the same things at a much slower speed and a heavy multiple of the cost.
But while small companies have speed and lack the complications of a large organisational hierarchy, unfortunately they don't have the scale to attract the investors in our sector because financiers are not risk takers. They might say they want the latest market innovation, but in reality they'll invest in what they feel are tried and tested models and where there is an existing flow of revenue.
Just take a look at the big residential care providers. They are backed by even bigger private equity firms who are driven by the need to make the bottom line attractive for resale, not innovating to benefit staff and customers. A prime example of this is how Terra Firma is already repackaging Four Seasons after acquiring the company two years ago.
So where does that leave the innovators? Currently lacking the scale required to access the wall of cash that I know is out there to support the older age agenda in the UK. But this challenge can easily be overcome if the local authorities, not for profits and private providers pool resources and thinking with entrepreneurs. This will help the entrepreneurs demonstrate their concept and ability to scale to investors.
It might sound counter-intuitive but working together will also start to stimulate competition which currently doesn't exist in the sector as everybody is doing the same thing. Stimulating competition will force even greater innovation and attract more finance. Soon we'll be providing lifestyle alternatives that older consumers actively choose and will have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing, which means local authorities can refocus their efforts on the most vulnerable in society.
Ultimately if we're going to drive and sustain long-term transformation, we need more than a commitment to change and collaboration. Every provider in the health and social care sector must behave like the technologists. They keep inventing, keep improving, never get complacent, and most of all never stop changing so their consumers can continually access a service and experience that is bigger and better. Let's make this one New Year's resolution that sticks.