Information sharing: will it save me money?

Stuart Bolton, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

We recently exhibited as part the Public Service Transformation Network Hub at the Public Sector Show 2015. The event was attended by a broad range of services and organisations including local councillors, fire services, health representatives and academics. There was a high level of interest in the benefits of information sharing and its cultural barriers.  What really came out for me during the day were the conversations I had about the range of agendas, innovation and hopes expressed around developing and improving information sharing across services.

I had a couple of very interesting conversations with fire service representatives. One officer highlighted that, through discussions as part of their local area’s public sector leadership programme, there was a recurring theme of information sharing. Another fire service representative really caught my interest when he described an innovative approach, which is seeking to integrate fire services and mental health services through the siting of places of safety for those in mental health crisis within local fire stations – a place of safety is somewhere an individual can be detained under the Mental Health Act whilst awaiting a formal mental health assessment. It certainly made me think about what the possibilities for information sharing could be from this relationship, particularly being able to identify and share relevant information about those who could be vulnerable from potential house fires and undertake preventative work with them.

Despite these positive discussions about innovative approaches to information sharing to improve services and outcomes, some conversations didn’t feel quite so positive, but highlighted the continuing challenges around information sharing. In one conversation it was lamented that there was a lack of immediately available solutions to information sharing issues, highlighting the feelings of pressure and frustration that come from needing to effect major changes, like budget reductions and to do it quickly.

One conversation that has really stayed with me was one that I had with a local authority chief executive who hit me straight away with the question;

‘Information sharing, will it save me money?

To answer this I described the work that the Centre has been supporting in Surrey around redesigning the response to those in mental health crisis, which has included looking at the enablers and challenges around information sharing to support development of the new mental health crisis safe havens.  Through developing their approach to information sharing, Surrey is looking to realise financial savings across their whole mental health crisis care system, which includes the resource savings associated with delivering a reduction in police time being spent responding to incidents related to people in mental health crisis. At present this equates to 20 percent of police time. His response to this was; ‘I’m not interested in saving the police money; I want to save my local authority money.’

It feels that in the current climate it is very easy for finances to become the main draw and we risk losing the focus of what we are here for, which is to support local places with finding the right solution to their information sharing barriers to provide better outcomes for people who use public services. I can’t fault him in getting straight to the point and I guess I should feel refreshed by the honesty and candour in his response, as without this and the relationships and trust born from it, partners will continue to struggle to develop the information sharing needed to deliver the transformational changes they aim to achieve.  There is a real need for partners to continue to work together and work out collaboratively how to make real financial savings.  Having the opportunity to explore opportunities for joint initiatives is important, but local places need to be mindful that only focusing on financial savings could impact on the vision for change across all areas of service transformation.

The Centre is in the early stages of working with Surrey. Our first steps have focused on opening up conversations and thinking by partners around their information sharing needs to help develop an understanding of its role and significance in delivering their efficiency and productivity ambitions.  The Centre has so far supported Surrey through undertaking workshops and stakeholder interviews to help reveal those cultural or ‘people’ issues that are either getting in the way of, or supporting, information sharing.  Surrey has recognised the value of focussing on small changes to explore the benefits realised by information sharing. The impact this can have on service changes and outcomes could potentially support the long-term goal of realising financial savings as well as improving outcomes for service users.

What this conversation, at the show, clearly illustrated to me is the potentially adverse and unintended impact that the significant financial pressures on the public sector can have on organisational culture and the thinking and behaviour that is needed to support continued information sharing.  Another conversation I had recently described the tensions in a local area between partners arising from financial issues in the health and social care landscape.  In particular they described a view of the challenge faced by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in balancing budgets whilst also working with other Better Care Fund stakeholders to develop information sharing as part the integration agenda that some regard as being funded by monies that have been diverted from traditional health organisations like existing GP provision.

The Centre’s team of engagement managers are continuing to work across local places supporting positive information sharing relationships and the development of trust that is required for people to work together and for organisations to share information which ultimately means that there will be better outcomes for service users.