All we want for Christmas is for you to work together

Jovian Smalley Jovian Smalley, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

On one of the many frosty, winter evenings this week, I paid a visit to the Christmas market in Bath. As I weaved through its 180 stalls, deciding between a balancing bottle holder and a set of heat resistant coasters, it occurred to me that the set up was not a million miles away from how public services are traditionally provided.

Every wooden chalet could be seen to represent a different service or agency. When the stall owners don’t share information with one another, how do they avoid duplication in their wares or understand that they are collectively meeting the full needs of the shoppers? In turn, the shoppers, like the service users, must then relay their needs to each stall-owner to ensure they receive the right service – if they manage to navigate through the stalls in the first place.

Now, before you think of me as an incorrigible Scrooge, I realise the metaphor can only be extended so far. To combine all those stalls into a giant festive cash and carry depot would be to denude the experience of its joy and whimsy. There is also a practical limit to what a shopper can come away with – a limit that’s usually reached somewhere between the stall selling chocolate tools and the mulled wine hut.

However, like all metaphors, it holds grains of truth. If the council and visitor centre had failed to work together on logistics and provide emergency support, or neglected to advise the public of the market’s offering, the market would be a more confusing, unsafe and frustrating affair.

Bath Christmas MarketIn this sense, the market information officers could be seen as performing a similar role to the named key-workers of Bath and North East Somerset’s successful Connecting Families programme, the local delivery of the national Troubled Families initiative.

The key-workers on this programme provide practical, hands-on support to families with complex problems, helping them understand and access the services they need. The collaborative approach to this programme, particularly around sharing information, is crucial to its ongoing success and the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing is supporting the partners to foster a new culture in which information is routinely shared.

Another policy area where this approach can work wonders is across health and social care integration. Bath & North East Somerset‘s local authority and clinical commissioning group are working together with thirteen primary care partners to develop a system that will securely share patient-level data. We are working with these partners to understand the genuine concerns and complexities around sharing information, so that barriers can be collectively overcome in the greater interest of ensuring patients get the medication or treatment they need, when they need it. For example, when a repeat prescription is urgently required during the Christmas period, but the patient is unable to recall the name of it to the out of hours doctor.

A key step for us is in supporting these partners is to work with them to understand how real stories about the experiences of the patient or service user can be used to empower whole communities to re-shape services around the needs of citizens, who will ultimately achieve better outcomes as a result. This is why we are also working with the integration pioneers in Cornwall, to capture the many positive changes that come from a professionally guided, person-centred conversation – like a citizen being able to walk their dog in Tregoniggie Woodland this Christmas, rather than being stuck at home.

As it goes in the festive song, service users don’t want a lot for Christmas – all they are asking for is that services work together and by sharing information, deliver just what they need so their wish-list only has to be checked once.