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Building windmills in Buckinghamshire

Elaina Quesada looks at how Buckinghamshire Council’s adult social care response has helped residents in the wake of Covid-19.

There is an old Chinese proverb: When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented change, looking back 12 months ago, we were doing what we could to respond and deal with the crisis that we and our teams found ourselves in.

The same as other leaders, I was guiding people through unknowns and staff wanted answers to questions that we were still working through. We had conversations about how we were going to keep vulnerable residents safe while ensuring the wellbeing of our staff was protected.

We adapted, we made adjustments, we came to grips with a new normal. At this time, however, I also began to realise that the structures, ways of working, systems and processes that had been in place for a number of years were not going to enable adult social care within our council to respond in an agile and flexible way.

The demand was high, staff were tired. The leaders of the service spoke at lengths about how we could create the right environment for staff to thrive not just exist. How could we enable improvement and high-quality support for our residents? We did not want to build walls or standstill.

Implementing a new adult social care structure and introducing a new case management system had always been part of our plan for 2020/21. We asked ourselves if we could proceed with this, could we carry on with our ‘business as usual’ priorities when our workforce was facing professional and personal challenges because of Covid-19?

We needed to change the way we organised ourselves. We wanted to introduce lower caseloads; improve spans of control for managers; and introduce a named worker so people did not have to wait for a crisis to be allocated to a social worker. We needed to act now. We wanted to connect people more closely to the assets in their community.

The impact of not being able to travel far and the amazing volunteer networks that were growing further across Buckinghamshire inspired us to think more about bonds that build resilience and independence for individuals which could deliver the outcomes people wanted for better lives.

Ideas that impacted practice had to be supported by a modern case management system that was more intuitive and linked workflow across the whole service. The only constant was change.

After much planning, and after one postponement, the consultation for the restructure started in December 2020. It involved 400 staff and was across all of our social work and occupational therapy teams, as well as our day services and our overnight short breaks service.

We reviewed every job description, and wrote and evaluated new ones. We re-worked the geographical boundaries of our long-term teams to ensure team resources could be split more evenly.

We introduced synergy across the whole adult social care service to reduce hand-offs and silo working. We have all found it challenging – managers and staff. The timing was difficult for many. Redundancy was also a factor for some staff members because we needed to rebalance staffing capacity into areas of high demand.

March marked 12 months since the pandemic started and I am happy to say that during that month we went live with our new case management system, and over the next two months we will be implementing our new structure.

We have increased the size of our social work and occupational therapy teams and significantly invested in training to aid career progression for all staff to grow our own.

While we have filled a number of roles through internal appointments and by converting agency staff to permanent contracts, we still have more recruitment to do. There is a buzz about the place. People want to work in adult social care in Buckinghamshire. The staff want to be part of the future and deliver the vision we have created together.

The staff’s courage, passion and dedication has helped build the windmill and as the sails are starting to turn, I am extremely proud and thankful to everyone who has brought us to this point.

To see the exciting roles available at Buckinghamshire Council click here. 

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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