Brokerage should be the guardians of commissioning

With the brokerage function becoming a more familiar sight in councils, should they not be treated as a core, skilled function? Chris Duck, Head of Business Management at adam, argues that councils need to rethink the role of Brokerage and make them the guardians of the commissioning process.

Commissioning care has changed over recent years. Whereas, historically, Social Workers played a big role in the process of choosing a care provider, we are now seeing that task being handed over to brokerage teams. The Brokerage function itself is an evolving one, with the majority of Councils now having a whole department to manage the task of commissioning care. The problem is that instead of becoming a vital channel in the delivery of quality care, brokerage have somehow became a glorified admin function, performing tick-box tasks.

What is the result? Well, I see Brokerage functions in a lot of Councils and, to be honest, many of them are treated as low-grade, administrative functions containing very little care experience. Yet, for me, it is one of the most crucial parts of the commissioning process and needs to be addressed.

Surely this is the wrong way to commission any service, let alone care?

The current scenario for a typical Brokerage team is to receive a care package request, phone one or two of Providers that meet the needs of the package, in the Broker’s personal preferred priority order, to check their availability. Using minimal information and limited experience, there’s no quality scoring; packages are not awarded based on how Providers will meet the individuals’ needs and no checks are made to ensure they are the best Provider available. Surely this is the wrong way to commission any service, let alone care?

So, how should commissioning a care package work? For me, it is right that Social Workers are not involved in the actual commissioning of care; it is not their expertise. They are in place to define what a person’s needs are and define what the individual’s care plan should deliver. They should then hand over the care plan to the brokerage team who can assess and translate that plan into a package that can be commissioned correctly and effectively. They should be able to access a range of managed and developed Providers to maximise the chance of getting the best possible care package for each individual each and every time.

Brokers should be the hub of the social care commissioning environment.

The role of the broker needs to be elevated. A Broker should be skilled enough to understand outcomes, legislation and current practises. They should be able to support and give guidance on how a Provider can meet an individual’s needs. They need to be able to correctly assess responses so they can make an informed judgement on how the Providers are going to meet a person’s needs. And they should be given access to all Council information held both about the person needing care and the Providers, enabling them to ensure the right Provider works with the right person to achieve the desired outcomes – an aerial view that Social Workers wouldn’t necessarily have. Brokers should be the hub of the social care commissioning environment.

We then have a further layer of complexity in that the management of the providers sits elsewhere. Sometimes within a procurement function or often in a separate team entirely. It simply does not make sense that the team who manage the compliance, quality and performance of the suppliers sits outside the people who are engaging with the market on a daily basis. They should have a much wider responsibility to develop their category, to build the supply base and to engage with the market. By ensuring all the different aspects of Provider and package management (all packages, queries and issues) are dealt with by one team better relationships, both with the people needing services and Providers, would be formed, delivering better results. Brokers should be at the heart of the category, not on the periphery.

Brokers should be at the heart of the category, not on the periphery.

Councils need to rethink the role of Brokerage. Rather than adding in another layer of process on the production line, they need a progressive, knowledgeable department who can oversee and manage the market and add value to the process.

For me, Brokerage should be the ‘guardian’ of the entire process. In fact, it needs to be.

Check out how adam is working with Councils to improve the commissioning process.