Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.
The week began on Monday with the Equality Commission on Human Rights publishing emerging findings indicating that older people’s basic human rights are being overlooked in the provision of care at home. In gathering its evidence the EHRC found numerous cases that give cause for great concern.
WRVS issued a swift statement saying that dignity and respect are vitally important in terms of older people’s well-being. The right support can enable individuals to stay independent in their own homes for longer or to return home safely and in a way that gives them the chance to regain their confidence.
Also on Monday the Government set out more detail of its plans to reform the NHS. The response argued that simply doing the same things in the same way will no longer be affordable in future, given the pressures. More of us are living longer and the number of people in the UK aged over 85 has almost trebled over the past 25 years. It is set to double again over the next 20. By 2034, one in 20 of us will be aged over 85.
The Government recognised that better commissioning can improve quality and save money at the same time, for example by helping people to manage their conditions at home and reducing the need to go to hospital.
The Government described a powerful new role for local councils in helping join up the NHS with social care, public health and other local services. Too often, organisational boundaries get in the way of providing seamless care. We want local authorities to be able to work far more closely with the NHS to shape services around the needs of individuals. A new duty would be created for clinical commissioning groups to promote integrated services for patients, both within the NHS and between health, social care and other local services; and we will strengthen the Bill’s existing duty on the NHS Commissioning Board to mirror this.
Meanwhile in the House of Lords, Baroness Turner of Camden tabled a written question asking what steps are being taken to ensure that when local authorities close day centres alternative arrangements are in place to provide services for elderly and vulnerable people and their carers.
In response Earl Howe referred to an answer he had given to an earlier question. He said that the responsibility for addressing the social care needs of their local community rests with local authorities. The Government recognised the importance of social care services and have taken steps to ensure that local authorities have sufficient funds to provide them. In recognition of the pressures on the social care system in a challenging fiscal climate, the Government has allocated an additional £2 billion by 2014-15 to support the delivery of social care. With an ambitious programme of efficiency, there will be enough funding available both to protect people's access to services and deliver new approaches to improve quality and outcomes.
On Tuesday evening during an Adjournment Debate on Volunteering, Andrew George MP praised WRVS volunteers for the wonderful job that they undertake across the country as a whole and particularly in Southend through the trolley services at Southend Hospital and Southend Meals on Wheels. He also admitted to having volunteered with WRVS which coincided with the late Queen Mother's centenary.
Friday saw the monthly situation report from the Department of Health on Delayed Transfers of Care by NHS Provider and Local Authority showing an increase for the month of May. WRVS was quick to react saying “Many independent commentators warned Health Ministers that increases in patient admissions were inevitable as cuts in social care begin to bite. WRVS feels that May’s increase in delays in transferring patients is a critical indicator that Ministers now have to watch.
It is essential that Ministers are ready and prepared to review social care funding once we see the longer term trend emerge and more data becomes available.”
During the week the debates continued over the impact of the financial problems at Southern Cross, however, there were other matters which caught the eye at Westminster.
The undoubted highlight of the week was the much anticipated publication on Monday of the NHS Future Forum report, led by Professor Steve Field, on the proposed NHS reforms which recommended a series of changes following the Government's 'listening' exercise.
The Forum made 16 key recommendations. One important finding was that local government and NHS staff recognise the huge potential in health and well-being boards becoming the generators of health and social care integration and in ensuring the needs of local populations and vulnerable people are met. The resulting recommendation was that the legislation should strengthen the role and influence of health and well-being boards in this respect, giving them stronger powers to require commissioners of both local NHS and social care services to account if their commissioning plans are not in line with the joint health and well-being strategy.
WRVS was quick to react, strongly supporting the recommendation that Monitor be given a duty to promote collaboration and integration within health and social care making a real difference to the care of older people. The evidence that WRVS has indicates that too many areas fail to join up health and social care. This report is right to say that there needs to be new ways to hold commissioners to account if they fail to deliver this agenda.
The Government lost no time in issuing its reply. On Tuesday Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, announced that the Government had accepted the core recommendations from the NHS Future Forum and will now make improvements to its modernisation plans. More detail on exactly how the Government plans to implement these changes, including amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, are planned shortly. During the debate Stephen Dorrell, Chair of the Health Select Committee said that he hoped the Government’s statement will address the fragmentation of service and progress the integration of service around the needs of individual patients.
On Monday, Iain Wright MP tabled an Early Day Motion to acknowledge the huge contribution made to society by older people and stating that the Government should do more to tackle the social and economic challenges facing older people. It also called on the Government to co-ordinate services including employment, pensions, housing and healthcare by creating a dedicated Minister for Older People.
At Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday, Jack Dromey MP highlighted Carers Week and asked about failures in care services in Birmingham, blaming the Conservative/Lib Dem led city council. The Prime Minister responded by saying that Birmingham was doing a very good job and that the Government is doing more to help carers across the country.
In replying on Wednesday to a written question from Margot James MP on what procedures are in place to monitor expenditure by local authorities on social care, Paul Burstow MP said that: "Local government expenditure on social care is collected annually by the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care, through the personal social services expenditure return."
We’ve had weeks of debate and uncertainty about the direction of the Government’s NHS reform programme but the Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday 7 June has given us a much clearer idea of how the new health service landscape will impact on older people.
It’s been a real concern that the competition agenda within the NHS would imperil the joining up of health and social care. The prospect of elements of preventative care services being divided up amongst a range of new and different providers worried many of us, given the longstanding failure to join up care in large parts of the country. The fact that the regulator, Monitor, will now be given a duty to promote collaboration within health and social care is a welcome safeguard.
Getting the health service to sit down and plan services with local government is such a big task that it must not undercut in any way by other dynamics within the system. The reality is that whilst in some parts of the country there are integrated services – such as support that helps settle older people back in their homes after hospital stays and that seek to intercept potential health and well-being problems when people are in the community, in many other places commissioners are only just on the starting blocks. This isn’t a matter of bad faith amongst those concerned but older people continually say that they need to see action on this.
WRVS now wants to see a new wave of integrated services come into being that can be lighthouses for commissioners in other parts of the country. We’ve shown this week with the Frontier Economics report, that the case for investing in these type of services is strong from the perspective of the taxpayer, families and volunteers.
Wednesday 1 June sees the start of this year’s National Volunteers Week. What better time for us to say a huge thank you to all of the wonderful WRVS volunteers in England, Scotland and Wales who give their time help make Britain a great place to grow old.
Every day our volunteers provide a wide variety of services to older people, from delivering a nutritious meal or much appreciated library books to shopping and transport services. And that’s not all they also provide services in hospitals from welcoming and guiding to retail and catering. There is so much going on and with more of us living to a grand old age there is always more that we can do.
So thanks to you all for the time that you give in your local community. Without your fantastic efforts life could be so much more difficult for older people everywhere. Thanks to you WRVS is a trusted national charity which is recognised as being personal, practical, positive and professional.
Not involved yet? If you are not already a WRVS volunteer and would like to get involved we have great news for you. We are expanding our services across England, Scotland and Wales so there will be even more varied and exciting opportunities for volunteers. It’s a good opportunity to meet new people, gain new skills or use the ones you already have to help other people and its fun!
Posted by Chris Dobson, Head of Volunteering