What is needed?

Good commissioning

Effective commissioning should help to drive up quality, enable people to choose or direct their own care, facilitate integrated service delivery and make the most effective use of available resources. It should stimulate new approaches and address gaps to improve locally agreed outcomes.

Commissioners will be familiar with the classic commissioning cycle of understand/analyse – plan – do – review. Good commissioning is about leadership as well – using evidence, local knowledge, working in partnership across health and social care and beyond, and working in true co-productive ways with local people. Good commissioning fosters positive relationships with providers.

Rigid procurement approaches should not drive the agenda or obstruct the development of new, flexible choice-based provision. Effective needs analysis and review will sometimes mean that decommissioning of services (that aren’t meeting needs) is the right thing to do.

There are some great resources to support commissioning for outcomes, such as the Local Government Association (LGA) reports Commissioning for better outcomes (2019) and Integrated commissioning for better outcomes (LGA 2018). Why not use these toolkits to focus on carers’ breaks – to analyse local supply, needs, secure stakeholder sign-up and co-produce commissioning plans for carers’ breaks?

Staff who carry out assessments need to understand that people who use services and carers often feel guilty about asking for support.

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019


Understanding local aspirations and needs is vital if planning is to deliver what is needed and valued. It is vital that commissioners aggregate and utilise information from individual assessments if they are to base planning and messages to providers on needs, outcomes and preferences.

Empower social work staff to take risks and do things differently without fear of reprimand.

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019

Information channels

Assessments record the rich detail that helps understand specific needs, aspirations, barriers, diversity and local variations. Commissioners need to establish channels with practitioners and those undertaking assessments. It helps to consider the following questions.

  • What information is being collected within organisations and across organisations (e.g. mental health trusts, CCGs, integrated assessments)?
  • What recording systems are used – can themes and trends be extracted?
  • Are carers’ assessments carried out by an external organisation? Are they asked to identify themes and issues?
  • Are providers doing their own assessments?
  • How do you gather information from and about self-funders?

A more detailed understanding will shape the right support and responses. It will help identify where breaks are not being addressed, discussed or provided. This can enable analysis about equalities and needs groups, and identify gaps and opportunities. Who is doing this well, and who isn’t?

Employers, including local authorities, should improve the skills of assessors and continuity of skills

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019

Improving assessments

Commissioners, with others, will want to consider what improvements are needed in terms of assessments in relation to breaks. Recording and addressing relevant information is one aspect of understanding needs and impacts. Another key aspect is exploring options and developing solutions with carers so that they get the breaks they need.

National evidence reveals issues with the quality of carers’ assessments – there is a huge variation in how they are carried out, recorded and implemented. They are often not outcome-focused, updated or followed up. Carers are unsure what assessments are for or even if they’ve had one. There is a need to get the basics right in order to be Care Act compliant.

Many assessments do not properly address the carer’s need for a break. The State of caring report (Carers UK 2018) noted that the need to have regular breaks from caring was the most likely issue (33 per cent) not to have been properly considered in assessments. Many carers don’t get breaks because they don’t have information about them or know what’s possible. If they are only presented with limited options – because social workers or assessors aren’t aware or aren’t confident – then they may feel those options aren’t suitable. Sometimes carers do not feel they can be honest about their need for a break, but must be seen to be ‘coping’, or they don’t recognise their own need for a break.

Care Act compliant assessments can help to:

  • understand emotional barriers carers may face in thinking about breaks
  • understand what’s wanted and needed and how breaks may help with sustainability
  • use strengths-based approaches to help carers consider their own skills and networks as well as what’s important to them
  • assist carers in thinking through what would work for them and what’s possible
  • take whole family approaches that consider outcomes and impacts holistically
  • ensure joined up approaches by linking with health or mental health assessments
  • provide and gather vital information at key points in a person’s life such as transition
  • provide tailored follow-up information about breaks, or how direct payments could be used to create flexible and individualised arrangements.

Useful links

Remember not every carer wants to be a carer and don’t assume [the] family will fill in.

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019

Needs analysis

To develop a full picture of what’s needed, commissioners must gather and make sense of information from a range of sources. They need to get a view of what’s wanted and what will make a difference. Understanding supply – what is available and how it is used – is essential. This includes provision that’s off the radar because it is not commissioned, or because it is small scale or is not described as a ‘break’. Carers may have put in place their own arrangements and solutions. Commissioners need a sense of how direct payment users are utilising their budgets and what self-funders are doing.

Co-production improves outcomes. Relevant provision can only be developed when it’s truly shaped by the people who will use it. The right relationships and platforms can yield efficient ways of getting people’s views quickly. This doesn’t have to be unwieldy (e.g. young adult carers were asked their views and within a couple of days rich and varied ideas and insights were shared via a Facebook group; see also SCIE’s resources on co-production).

Tips for good co-production and engagement

  • Be flexible and use a range of approaches so that carers can be involved in any way possible. Ask carers what works for them. Use established groups such as your carers’ reference group or partnership board but don’t make that the only way.
  • Engage with people at different times and in different ways: at, weekends, via telephone calls and webinars. Be creative – use social media, information boards at shops, pharmacists or GP surgeries. Without this you may miss key voices or particular groups. Ask the cared-for people for their views. There’s no point planning services that people don’t want.
  • Equalities and diversity. Co-production needs to be inclusive of all communities and needs. Sometimes carers/communities are seldom heard, may be reluctant to engage or your engagement approaches don’t work for them. Can you link through other channels? Who understands these people’s views? Who do carers feel safe talking to? Are there carers’ organisations, faith groups or community groups that people trust that you can link through? People may also be linked with groups focused on specific needs such as dementia, stroke and mental health. Have you missed anyone?
  • Understand the context. People fear losing what they have – even if it isn’t perfect. It needs to be safe for people to give their views. What is available will shape what people say they want and ultimately what people choose – so you may need to help broaden horizons about what’s possible and share examples.
  • Respect and value people’s views. Ask carers if you have the questions right. Have they been asked something similar recently, or responded to surveys that you don’t know about? Engage people with meaningful questions that will make a difference. What’s stopping people taking a break? What would a good break look like?
  • Let people know how information is going to be used – what difference it will make and by when. Let people know what has changed as a result of their work.
  • Don’t forget reward and recognition, whether that’s paying carers for their involvement in developing specifications or ensuring refreshments for people giving their time for free at an event.

Practice examples

  • Give Them a Break Campaign Open

    South Lakeland Carers

    South Lakeland Carers identified through carers groups and one-to-one that carers who were not eligible for a County Council Budget were finding it increasingly difficult to have a break from their caring role. This holiday/night away did not always fit with carers’ circumstances. So it initiated a campaign in conjunction with the local newspaper to raise awareness of the carer’s role and asking local people and businesses to donate to the Give Them a Break Campaign which raised £20,000 to enable 200 carers to access a 'break' from their role. The monies raised by this campaign will be used by February 2020.

    As yet the service has not been evaluated.

    Budget £20,000 to be used by February 2020.

    Website: Westmorland Gazette - Give Them a Break Campaign
    Contact: Deborah Marsden, Services Manager

  • Respite Support for Adults and Children 16+ with learning disabilities Open

    Commissioner: Cheshire East Council

    Cheshire East Council recognised that adults and children over 16 with learning disabilities and/or autism who may also display behaviour that challenges (including those with a mental health condition and/or a physical disability) were often unable to access appropriate respite care within the borough. Evidence showed that existing services were often unable to meet these more complex needs, resulting in many people having to use respite in out-of-borough placements, which often did not offer best value for money.

    In April 2018, the council hosted a series of consultative group meetings, issued easy read surveys and attended meetings with people who use services and their carers. Results showed that carers valued accommodation-based respite away from the family home, in order to give them a break from their caring role, safe in the knowledge that the person they cared for was in a safe environment with appropriately skilled staff. The survey also informed commissioners that service users wanted to undertake activities to develop their independent living skills and to be able to go out into the community.

    A soft market testing questionnaire was issued in August 2018 to gauge interest from the local and wider provider market. This helped commissioners in understanding the potential interest and ability of providers to deliver such a service within Cheshire East, especially to support those individuals who may display behaviour that challenges.

    In September 2018 the council invited tenders from potential service providers, who could evidence that they were able to provide community-based accommodation and could demonstrate that they would provide skilled support. The successful bidder was a provider called 1st Enable.

    The service – provided by 1st Enable - was opened in January 2019. The service model consists of four beds (two beds in the south and two in the north of Cheshire East and included the flexibility for additional one-to-one/two-to-one support for those with complex needs). At this stage it is too early to evaluate the new service. However there have been early indications that the service provision is able to support complex individuals and that evidence of good outcomes have been achieved (with service users developing independent living skills and accessing social activities in the community as part of their respite stay).

    In terms of lessons learned from the commissioning process, it was felt that more time should be given to the service provider for the development or modification of accommodation, the recruitment of skilled staff and to provide greater clarification around CQC registration process. Site visits by the council should also take place as part of the tender evaluation in future.

    Funding: £170,000 pa.

    Website: Cheshire East Council
    Contact: Mark Hughes, Senior Commissioning Manager

Partnership approaches and information flows

What are your approaches and channels to engage a range of stakeholders? Engagement helps foster collaboration and in forming a broad picture of needs and potential solutions. Partners may have ideas across wider agendas as well. Some approaches to consider are as follows.

  • Bring all stakeholders together. Providers and commissioners can hear from carers – their stories are particularly powerful. Providers can showcase good practice and innovation can be shared. Together they are more likely to stimulate new discussions and change power dynamics.
  • Is there a forum to meet with providers? Does that engage different types of organisations – community enterprises as well as traditional services?
  • Gather information and get views from GPs and pharmacists – they are seeing carers regularly.
  • Are elected members involved? As well as shaping decisions, they will have a view and represent the needs of their constituents.
  • Are carers represented on the health and wellbeing board? Are breaks part of the agenda?
  • Link with your local Healthwatch. They are the independent champion for people using health and social care services. They promote a community voice to shape and improve services. Can they focus on breaks?
  • Are you linking with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), carers’ groups and needs-specific groups? Community organisations and faith groups will also have a view and may be able to offer more creative solutions. Carers are part of the community too.
  • Don’t forget local businesses – many want to contribute to their local community. They may want to develop their corporate social responsibility (CSR) plans.

Commissioners and providers need to understand their area and listen to carers to get their views. Ensure there are multiple feedback loops and ensure you use that feedback. If something is not working, move on.

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019

Mapping provision and supply

You will need information from a range of sources to understand the local supply of breaks. Remember, many breaks are not funded or arranged by statutory services. Good supply mapping will look at:

  • A stocktake of existing information. Is your market position statement up to date? Has any relevant mapping happened? This may have looked at registered suppliers, micro-enterprises or carers strategy development.
  • What do you know about local spend and investment in breaks?
  • Analyse a range of supplier types and contractual arrangements. What are your contracted services? What is the uptake of breaks? What registered services are there in the area? What other types of services are there?
  • What do you know from assessments and reviews?
  • What have carers told you about what they use? How do they get a break?
  • Providers – what is their honest view of supply, need and sustainability?
  • What is the quality of local supply? How do you know this? Through contract monitoring, CQC inspections, peer quality checking? How does it compare with ‘What good looks like?’
  • What do people perceive as the barriers to taking a break?
  • What has been the impact of cuts to other services?

Check that you are commissioning what’s needed, including protected characteristics.

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019

Understanding need and demand

As well as understanding supply, you also need to understand the demographics of, and the needs and trends in, demand. Information from engagement, co-production and assessments will form a key part of this.

  • What do local carers want and need? How do you know this? How much care are carers providing? What does your local carers’ survey say? What information is there from assessments and reviews?
  • What demographic information is available? Census data and the joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA) should show how many carers and people with needs there are in an area, their ages and ethnicity. You may already have a targeted area needs assessment about carers.
  • How many people are known to statutory services? Lack of integration across the whole system can make this difficult to quantify, so utilise channels across health, mental health and social care.
  • What intelligence do providers have? Providers – do you have a waiting list? Do you receive approaches from people you can’t help?
  • Are there trends that indicate particular pressures on carers and their ability to carry on caring? Does this happen at particular ages, life stages or more so with particular conditions, or for particular protected characteristics, for example? Is there more breakdown with working carers or where people aren’t receiving other support?

Shift the power dynamic between commissioner, provider and carer so that there is mutual respect.

Carers’ Breaks Reference Group discussion, February 2019

Gaps in supply and demand

Commissioners and providers need to understand the gaps – the difference between supply, availability, demand and quality compared with ‘what good looks like’, so they can plan how to address this with communities.

You may find you have gaps in your own local data and evidence. You may want to address this by developing breaks-related performance measures, improving understanding of outcomes through peer evaluation and working with partners to understand the wider benefits of breaks.

It’s important to understand the role that carers play and what the impact would be if they stopped caring, so that you can commission based on the long-term support needs of carers and their families. Targeted approaches may be needed to address equality and access issues.

Working up options for development needs to be similarly co-produced and evidence based. Carers and stakeholders will have ideas for addressing these aspects. Providers may have proposals for development. Innovative approaches may have scope to grow. There may be wider agendas and strategic opportunities to embed effective breaks. This is addressed in more detail in the Shaping the market section

Useful links

Carers’ breaks: guidance for commissioners and providers
Previous section | All sections | Next section