Slump sparks fears for older people’s prevention policy

Rising demand and the economic downturn are having a major impact on preventive work with older people intended to help them live independently, an exclusive Community Care survey has found.

One-third of social workers thought the recession would have a big impact on implementing the government’s policy of early intervention to keep older people out of hospital for longer. A further 29% thought it would have some impact.

Findings from the survey, done in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care Institute for Excellence, show 61% of the 692 respondents think rising demand from older people will have at least some effect on the ability of local agencies to implement prevention and early intervention.

But the survey paints a broadly positive picture of progress so far. Some 67% of social workers believe that their local authority has a prevention strategy and 68% think it effective. Of these, 8% thought the strategy very effective and 60% quite effective. However, there was evidence that councils could do more. Asked whether their council had proactive ways of identifying older people in need of support, only 23% replied yes.

On the involvement of council departments other than social care in promoting the well-being of older people, housing performed particularly well and education particularly poorly. Whereas 63% of social workers said housing was involved in the strategy, only 28% said the same of education. Transport scored second highest for involvement (49%), then leisure (45%) and community regeneration (37%).

The voluntary sector (89%) and the NHS (73%) scored highly for involvement in promoting older people’s well-being, although only half said the NHS and their council would work together well in future on prevention.

The survey provides strong evidence that delayed discharges from hospital are far from the only trigger for planning older people’s longer-term care needs. Well over two-thirds of respondents said their local authority had systems in place to enable decisions about these needs to be made outside of hospital.

Annie Stevenson, head of older people’s services at Scie, said: “Demography and longevity are the drivers for change and it’s easy to cry for more resources. But better co-ordination of existing resources and services can make a huge difference.”

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