Social workers and GPs should be ‘in the driving seat’ on health and social care integration

But joint report says more multidisciplinary education and co-location of services is needed to help practitioners understand each other's roles

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.”






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One Response to Social workers and GPs should be ‘in the driving seat’ on health and social care integration

  1. Edna October 31, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    This looks like the chair of TCSW, whose premises are shared with the RCGP I understand, is using this opportunity to promote its ongoing agenda to promote social work. This when it is far from clear that adult social work has any value save ‘gatekeeping’ to services which are declining and mostly refused due to cost.

    In fact in my own experience social workers and GP’s ‘use each other’. GP’s see social work as I have described- it has no other function but getting services, what ever comes out of TCSW.

    Where social workers, who may actually know and see less of client, do not want to provide recommended provision they ignore GP input. It happened and ongoing abuses / neglect of client by social services failures to act. .

    Perhaps Ms Cleary would like to give a very detailed list of what social workers would do, (and the specific knowledge and education they have in this respect), to help the high need clients. Experience has indicated very little indeed. The failure to spell this out in detail shows that TCSW is doing a jobs for social work promotion only without an evidence base.

    This is worrying. The people who see high end clients are nurses, care workers and NHS staff who actually could do as good a job, with less vested interests, on assessment and arranging services.

    Why do we need adult social care outside of a national health care service using NHS staff as the arrangers? I argue we do not and in these days of austerity cutting out a whole layer and re-enforcing the existing knowledge / skills based professionals in the NHS and training them to a social model of care, ( not expensive as most already are aware of this), is all that is needed. There is a vast and expensive overlap and I hope what ever future government is in place we have some with enough intellect to grasp this. It is not rocket science.

    NHS professionals have values no different to social work in respect to their patients. Stop using the word patient and things can be different.