Ahead of a major conference on intervention and prevention, Scie’s Annie Stevenson outlines the key issues on promoting well-being and independent lives for older people
Prevention and early intervention should be at the forefront of support services for older people. It means making day-to-day living easier and giving older people full and meaningful lives by planning for the ageing process and preventing, delaying or managing crises. But there are key challenges that need to be addressed to reduce crisis intervention.
Councils have a local area leadership role to ensure that older people can live independently and actively for as long as possible: to realise a vision for old age. It is not just the responsibility of the adult services departments. According to the Audit Commission’s report Don’t Stop Me Now, only one-third of councils are well prepared for an ageing population, although a further third are making progress.
To create an effective support system we need all the pieces of the jigsaw to fit: universal services, such as transport, housing, shopping and community services, need to be “age proofed” care and health services need to be personalised carers need to be recognised and supported funding needs to be realigned and information and advice services must be strengthened. Above all, everyone must work together and challenge poor attitudes to older people.
All councils need to understand their older communities and shape universal and targeted services accordingly. Increased awareness, better engagement and innovation could help many older people without significant expenditure. According to the Audit Commission, the best councils innovate to adapt mainstream services for older people and work with public and private sector partners to drive improvements.
While much of the discussion on Putting People First has been about individual budgets, they are just one way of personalising care. Older people in residential and collective settings should be involved in deciding how their service is delivered. And, according to findings from individual budget pilots, older people value highly the quality of information and communication. The introduction of first-stop-shops which filter funding and benefit advice enquiries for older people is a good example of a new service that can support better information provision and is empowering for people.
Why are attitudes so hard to shift? Let’s not forget that standard one of the National Service Framework‘s aims is to root out age discrimination and we still have so far to go. We all wish to live long, healthy, productive lives, where we are treated with respect and dignity. With the projected increase in dementia, many of us will need a society that accepts and tolerates people with dementia. Equally, early diagnosis and intervention are vital for individuals and their families to manage and plan for long-term care.
Carers are our main prevention workforce and the lifeblood of our communities. Their importance cannot be underestimated – the care system would simply collapse without them. But carers need lives of their own, should not be forced into financial hardship and should be treated with dignity and respect.
Transforming older people’s services is hugely ambitious. In the current financial climate, many are concerned that the recent political attention on older people’s services may wane. All major political parties do, however, recognise the importance of preparing for an ageing population, and the government’s plan to produce a green paper on future funding of care and support must stay on track for next spring.
As social care professionals, we have the skills, expertise and knowledge required to realise a new vision for older people’s services. But we also need to be able to adapt to our changing roles as potential care navigators making connections between a wider range of local services, beyond social care and really engaging with individuals in the way we’ve always excelled. The establishment of the National Skills Academy for Social Care in March 2009 is a great opportunity to improve the status of social care. It is critical that we reconnect to our roots which is about empowering and enabling people to live the lives they wish and challenging poor attitudes.
Annie Stevenson is head of older people’s services at Scie
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