Friday, 12 July 2013

Is service integration the cure for an ailing NHS?

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the NHS in Wales and, despite being a hallmark of ‘Great Britain’, it is possibly facing the most challenging time in its entire history. With increasing demand for services, higher expectations and pressure to cut spending, finances couldn’t be any tighter. Or could they?    

Unscheduled care, in particular, is under extreme pressure as more and more people present a t A and E and choose to bypass GP out of hours surgeries.  Hospitals are also struggling to meet existing targets and delayed transfers of care and waiting list times continue to rise.  

Reconfiguration is one solution that’s being offered; however, it’s not just secondary care which is under pressure.  Patients in Wales come into contact with the NHS some 20 million times each year, with 80% of contacts taking place outside of a hospital. On average, people visit their GP seven times a year and we expect this to rise rapidly as welfare reform impacts on wellbeing with more people suffering from depression.  

So, put simply, finances could be and are likely to get tighter!  The good news is that housing associations and Care & Repair agencies can help.  Housing associations and Care & Repair agencies already work closely with social care partners to deliver critical services that contribute to prevention and re-enablement. They are also key players in supporting better community health and staff can be a key contact for older people living alone.    

The Older Persons Commissioner is passionate about ‘Older people wanting to stay safe, healthy and secure’ and that the key requirement for those returning home form hospital is ‘food in the refrigerator, a warm home and continuity of care.’ Housing associations already fulfil this role and they can and want to do more.  

Some housing associations also have their own dementia and extra care homes and provide specialist care and support throughout Welsh communities.  Others employ staff in hospices to reduce pressure on A and E by providing support to homeless people who are often repeat presenters at A and E. Despite this work, the role of housing associations is barely recognised in the new Health, Social Care and Wellbeing bill.
As the NHS grapples with how best to simultaneously cut costs, meet demand and improve services, more Local Health Boards have been developing projects with housing associations to provide more integrated/holistic services focused on the needs of the individual. While this might not be a total cure, results so far show that it certainly drives improvement.

We will be celebrating some of these projects during Health & Housing week from 15-19 July and we’re inviting you to engage in this week. Tell us your story, either as a service provide or as a customer, about how integrated services across housing and health have helped you! 

Amanda Oliver
Head of Policy and Research, CHC 

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