Social workers and GPs are best placed to deliver a radical overhaul of health and social care services, according to a joint report by the College of Social Work (TCSW) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).
The report, which was launched today at the National Children and Adults Services Conference (NCASC), makes the case for more partnership working between the two groups of professionals as a solution to funding crises across the two sectors.
The funding gap between demand and resources is expected to reach £30 billion by the end of the decade in the NHS alone, according to the study.
It states that while social workers and GPs have ‘regularly failed’ to understand one another’s roles and responsibilities, bringing them together would help create a more community-based service that is cost-effective and better reflects people’s needs.
The report includes five examples of good practice in multidisciplinary teams, which illustrate how social workers and GPs are already working together to make savings and help people live more independently.
Early results from the case studies show that a 15-20% reduction of residential and nursing care admissions and a 20-30% decrease in A&E attendance and hospital bed occupancy have been achieved for service users with high support needs.
Jo Cleary, chair of the College of Social Work, said: “This report gives powerful examples of how social workers and GPs can work in partnership to ensure that people with long-term conditions, such as dementia or diabetes, are better supported in their communities.
“People with long-term conditions account for 70% of acute and primary care budgets, as well as impacting hugely on council budgets, yet there is mounting evidence that this very significant sum of public money could be much better invested in community based services with social workers and GPs in the driving seat.”
The report also welcomed the development of the £3.8 billion Better Care Fund, a pooled health and social care budget due to be introduced by the government in April 2015.
It said that the fund provided an opportunity to establish this model of partnership working and would help GPs get back to their ‘real job of providing care where it is most needed’, while enabling social workers to give people more choice and control.
The two professional colleges are now calling for more inter-disciplinary education, co-location of services and informal networking to help improve partnerships between practitioners.
“Social workers and GPs working together, understanding each other and being attuned to the pressures that both professions are under is essential for a resilient health and social care sector in the UK,” said Dr David Paynton, RCGP’s national clinical lead for the Centre of Commissioning.
“Our two professions are ideally placed to ‘fuse’ services and implement innovative and creative ways of working, to ensure that communities are empowered and patient care and safety remains uncompromised.”
Reaction from delegates
The session at NCASC received a full house of delegates, but one audience member asked why health and social care integration should be ‘any different this time’.
Responding to the question, Paynton said the introduction of health and wellbeing boards meant there was finally a driving force behind the change.
He said: “It is about how people on the ground take the opportunity and lead that process. As we develop new structures and we get GP practices and social workers working together, we have absolutely got to share objectives.
“If this doesn’t happen then I think that the health and wellbeing boards will have to share some responsibility for that failure.”
Annie Hudson, chief executive of the College of Social Work, added: “There is now a very different architecture around social work- we have a chief social worker, a college of social work and principal social workers in place. I think social work has now got more leverage to make a very different contribution.
“It’s also a case of needs must – if we don’t do something very different then we won’t be able to deliver for older and disabled people in the future.”