19/08/2014 10:03 BST | Updated 19/10/2014 06:59 BST

Sharing Is Caring: Quality at the Heart of Reformed Care Act

With the Care Act 2014 recently approved by Parliament and in receipt of Royal Assent , the way that care is provided is facing some fundamental changes. People using or looking for care services are being given a lot more choice in how they fund their care and will be able to access more information, allowing them to easily compare the quality of potential services.

This means that residential and domiciliary care providers must look to improve operational inefficiencies in order to focus on the provision of 'quality' care and truly deliver under the new regulations.

Person-centred care

Prior to the Act, people using or looking for care services did not have information that allowed them to compare the quality of service easily and inform their choice of provider. However, the Act now means that person-centred care is more of a priority - people will have greater choice as to what care they receive and how they receive it. A concerted move away from task-based care to a focus on outcome-based care will combine with the introduction of health and social care ratings, effectively opening the door for a scoring system of care provision and care providers. Therefore providers must be able to support this personalisation of care and demonstrate their effectiveness in delivering quality.

People will also have personal budgets, access to mixed funding and revised financial needs-based assessments due to a funding cap. In addition, there is also a new limit on the amount paid for care in a lifetime. Receivers of care will end up with a personal budget and may be paying for services themselves or receiving funding from the local authority. This means they may no longer perceive themselves as a receiver of care, but a customer of care. They have choice, and choice decisions are based on quality and cost, potentially posing some big challenges to service providers.

The cost of delivering quality

Inevitably, increasing quality creates cost pressures. Put simply, it costs more to carry out personalised care, with a focus on delivering quality and agreed outcomes, than it does to deliver task-based care (going through the motions of just delivering the tasks that are needed). With limits set on the amount of money an individual will be required to pay on care in their lifetime, it seems inevitable that the financial burden on local authorities will increase.

With many local authorities already making their selection of care providers based mainly on price, improving quality for the same or less money will fall to the charitable and private care providers themselves. Yet with new levels of transparency and demand for personalised support, care providers need to be able to demonstrate the quality of service they provide and, more importantly, they must deliver on this.

Providers are going to be asked to do more and despite spend in care dropping by eight per cent over the past two years, there is a lot more that is expected to be delivered. If they are continuously driven down on cost the quality of care is not going to improve without operational changes.

Managing change and delivering quality services

So how can care providers manage these changes, communicate effectively and also remain profitable while focusing on quality of service?

Within the care industry, which is based on staff service, it is essential that workforce planning, staff rotas and contract and service management run like clock work. Far too often providers work with disparate systems, which can aggravate the inefficiency of operations.

Many providers do not have the time or the correct systems to do anything other than task-based care. Good systems can reduce this and put the focus on people-based care.

Streamlining systems and processes, improving IT systems and using business automation where possible, means providers will be able to save time and money on operational issues so there can be more of a focus on the quality of care. Integrated business management systems help reduce inefficiencies in the system, remove duplicated work, allowing providers to spot trends and proactively manage their operations to target issues and opportunities.

By providing an integrated solution that allows different business functions to 'talk to each other' effectively, the infrastructure and operational cost of care reduces, allowing the business to redirect its efforts onto quality of care without hitting the margins they need to make.

By utilising integrated solutions and technology to their advantage, care providers will be able to make a visible drive towards quality. However, it is not just the financial impact. Greater system efficiencies leads to better staff retention; investing in training and development as well as removing repetitive administration for care workers means less churn. This in turn improves standards and the continuity of care with the added bonus of reducing the costly cycle of recruiting new staff.

With the ever increasing costs of delivering care, it is the providers that can operate efficiently, deliver person-centred care and evidence the quality of that care that will be the ultimate winners, benefiting their staff, shareholders and ultimately the customers they serve.

The coming months will throw the care industry into the spotlight and it is vital that those looking for care services understand what these changes will mean for them. Similarly, care providers need to be aware of the impact of trying to deliver quality in a more competitive market. They will need to take action as soon as possible to ensure they are equipped to deliver quality care efficiently and cost-effectively.