Bodies such as the Local Government Association believe investment in preventive services will not only improve the quality of life for older people but also deliver long-term savings.
The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, which operates 28 retirement schemes across the Midlands and the North West, is one organisation that holds the view that prevention is far better than cure. Its work in delivering effective health screening programmes and fitness activities for its 2,000 residents has recently drawn national acclaim.
Linda Patmore, a trained nurse and one of the trust’s well-being advisers, was recognised at the Laing & Buisson Independent Healthcare Awards for her work supporting 500 residents and visitors at ExtraCare’s Reeve Court Village in Merseyside. She says receiving the accolade was more about the service than her own achievements.
” I don’t know of anywhere that offers a service such as the one provided by ExtraCare,” she says. “It’s a holistic approach which looks at all the residents from head to toe.”
The well-being programme was praised for ensuring early referrals of serious conditions among residents to health professionals. Notably, Patmore’s screening sessions identified three cases of cancer which were subsequently treated and cleared.
New residents are invited to attend an initial health assessment once they have moved in to the retirement village or even before they arrive, says Patmore. Uptake at this early stage is usually high with only a handful of residents preferring to rely on the care available through their own GP.
“We may find someone who has massively high blood pressure but they haven’t been to see their GP for 18 months because they haven’t felt unwell,” she says. “We also find out what illnesses they might have at this stage so we can establish a diagnosis.”
Patmore says the comprehensive nature of the screening programme is key. After a mini-health check, residents undergo what is termed a baseline assessment which can take up to three hours to complete. This is then followed by a review assessment about six to eight weeks later.
“Again at this stage we look at things like their height, weight, blood sugar and blood pressure. We also make sure they know what all their medications are for,” she says.
In addition to these regular assessments residents can access the service via daily drop-in sessions or scheduled appointments.
Resident Colleen O’Sullivan was diagnosed with skin cancer on her face last year after attending an appointment with Patmore. “She didn’t alarm me – she just told me to see the GP straightaway,” she says.
Following surgery to remove the cancerous cells, O’Sullivan is fully aware her condition could easily have gone unnoticed.
“A GP might not have asked what was on my face unless I’d brought it up,” she says. “If the well-being service wasn’t in situ then I probably wouldn’t have been diagnosed.”
Although attendance at well-being sessions is not compulsory, Patmore is keen for residents to follow-up any recommended course of action. “If, for example, I find a person with very high blood pressure and I ask them to see their GP, I can’t force them to go. But we ask them to pop in and tell me about their progress,” she says.
One of the programme’s major advantages is the benefit to local GP surgeries who work closely with Patmore to ensure residents receive continual screening.
“A lot of GPs know we have this service so they might ask patients to ask us to keep an eye on their blood pressure. It just frees up a lot of their time and that of the practice nurses too,” she says.
Perhaps the best advert for the well-being programme is Patmore’s team of “ambassadors” who help spread the good word about the benefits the service can bring.
Recruits are residents who are either former health professionals or those with an active interest in improving their own health. With training support, they carry out minor health checks such as taking other residents’ blood pressure. They are not required to interpret these readings – only to participate in screening sessions.
“They are the lifeblood of my service and they tell everyone how good the programme is. When you see the changes in them and how good they look it’s a wonderful way of telling someone else,” she says.
● Establish a comprehensive screening programme by offering different stages of health checks. Keep track of everyone by holding annual screening sessions.
This article appeared in the 8 November issue under the headline “Screening reaps the rewards”