There have been numerous reports in both the regional and national media this week about Birmingham City Council’s contract with Matrix SCM regarding care packages being sent out electronically to care providers. In particular, the reports have focused on the idea that elderly and disabled people’s care requirements are being ‘put up for auction’ on ‘eBay-style websites’ and the misconception that care packages are being awarded to providers which the council itself has rated as ‘poor’.
Below are some of the most common myths being reported in the media, along with the relevant clarification:
Myth: Birmingham City Council is buying services from providers with a quality rating of ‘0’.
Reality: This is not the case. The best quality provider for any individual resident is identified using a built-in quality rating determined by:
- Care provider self-assessment;
- Care Quality Commission compliance data;
- The council’s own intervention data.
Where a care provider has a quality rating of ‘0’, this is simply because they have not returned their quarterly self-assessment questionnaire, which forms part of the information required to gain a quality rating. Therefore, a ‘zero rating’ in this case is not a reflection of quality of care.
If a care provider sees a fall in quality then this will drastically reduce their chances of winning a care package contract from the council. In such circumstances, a commissioning officer will work with the care provider to improve their services over a period of time, with failure to improve resulting in that provider being suspended from providing any business to the council until the issues are resolved to the council’s satisfaction.
Myth: The majority of care packages are awarded to the cheapest bidder.
Reality: Many media reports have focused on a response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from April 2014 which states that 92.23 per cent of care homes awarded a care package had offered the cheapest price. However, these figures only go up to March 2014 and the FoI does make clear that in all instances, the selection process was subject to a 60 per cent quality/40 per cent price weighting formula being applied.
The following Birmingham City Council statement includes figures from January 2014 onwards clearly demonstrating the percentages of packages awarded to the highest quality bidders:
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “The wellbeing of all our service users is paramount and we only award care packages to providers who are able to demonstrate that they can meet the needs of individuals. Since January 2014, we have awarded 5,857 care packages, of which 94 per cent of residential placements and 88 per cent of home support placements were awarded to the best quality provider bidding on the day.
“No placements have been awarded based solely on price without considering the quality of care or provider, weighted 60 per cent on quality and 40 per cent on price. Each bid is judged on its own merits, ensuring that we balance high quality care with the need to achieve value for money, particularly given the market-driven increase in the cost of care over the past year.”
In many cases, the media chose to use only a small part of this statement, omitting to use the new figures which supersede those included in the FoI.
Over the past month, the average cost of a residential placement was £440 per week, while the average cost of a nursing placement was £493 per week. Compared to the average costs in October 2013 of £405 and £461, respectively, this demonstrates that the market is driving prices.
Myth: Birmingham City Council is simply trying to cut costs.
Reality: The use of this system is about trying to balance the need to find high quality care best suited to an individual’s needs with the need to achieve value for money, particularly given the market-driven increase in the cost of care over the past year and the well-publicised financial challenges currently facing the council. In this sense, this is no different to the tendering process used when procuring any council service, with the aim being to provide high quality to our service users whilst also achieving value for money for taxpayers.
The individual requiring care remains at the centre of any decision taken. Residents are encouraged to visit any prospective care or nursing home identified by the system to ensure they are happy with the premises. Additionally, the provider will always want to carry out their own assessment prior to a placement being agreed by all parties. Residents are entitled to choose alternative provision if they wish.
Myth: Care companies bidding to offer a place have to state what services they can provide and at what cost before a computer system decides which company is the winner of the ‘contract’.
Reality: This is not correct. The system will shortlist a total of three providers based on their quality and price scores, and then an experienced social care broker will review and score the responses of each of those providers as to how they are able to meet the resident’s requirements, which then provides a total score and defines the winning bid.