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Royal Voluntary Service blog
Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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Keeping busy is key to improved wellbeing in older people

Steve SmithMore and more evidence suggests that keeping occupied and undertaking activities that give an older person a sense of achievement and purpose is good for their health and wellbeing.

Previous research on whether retirement is bad for health has produced mixed results. New research presented by the Institute of Economic Affairs this summer indicates that being retired may decrease physical, mental and self-assessed health and these adverse effects increase as the number of years spent in retirement rises. The results obtained showed that clinical depression increased in retirement by around 40% and the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by around 60%. Equally, while retirement in itself is a stressful event it can decrease work related pressures which can also be harmful to health. So much will depend on the type of work that the individual is exiting from.

Earlier this month a survey undertaken on behalf of the Royal Voluntary Service showed that more than two million retirees over the age of 60 spend their time volunteering for at least two charities. The research also provides an insight into why older people choose to volunteer. Although 83% of those aged 60 and over volunteer because they believe the work of the charity is very important, 39% follow in the footsteps of a relation and say they volunteer because their family have always done so.

Furthermore, 46% of older people admit they chose to volunteer because they need to feel they have a purpose. Our previous research also found that older people who volunteer are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier.

And a few days ago a study led by the University of Exeter showed that people who volunteer benefit from various improvements in mental health. Those who gave up their time to help others were less likely to suffer from depression, plus they had higher levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing. However, if volunteering gives nothing back to the volunteer its positive effect is limited or negated.

But the message seems to be clear, keeping active and busy for as long as possible in roles that “give back” is an important factor in maintaining health and wellbeing in older age, whether that is through a choice of formal paid work or through volunteering.

One way of ensuring that volunteers receive acknowledgement for the contribution that they make is by nominating for this year's Diamond Champions awards. Nominations can be made up until 15 September. More information can be found here.

Posted by Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Wednesday, 28 August 2013.

Labels: older people, wellbeing, loneliness

Historic chances to health and social care begin this week

The delivery of health and social care has undergone major change to its core structures. Many of the changes have already taken place, but most took effect on 1 April 2013. These changes will have an impact on who makes decisions about NHS services, how these services are commissioned, and the way money is spent.

Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities have been abolished, and other new organisations such as clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have taken their place. As of this week a total of 211 CCGs are responsible for £65 billion of the £95 billion NHS commissioning budget. All 8,000-plus GP practices in England are members of a CCG, putting the majority of the NHS budget in the control of frontline clinicians for the first time. The groups will include other health professionals, such as nurses.

CCGs will commission most services, including, planned hospital care, rehabilitative care, urgent and emergency care, most community health services and mental health and learning disability services. CCGs can commission any service provider that meets NHS standards and costs. These can be NHS hospitals, social enterprises, charities, or private sector providers.

To add to the mix are health and wellbeing boards; a new forum where leaders from the health and care system work together to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population and reduce health inequalities. Each top tier and unitary authority has its own health and wellbeing board. Board members will work together to understand their local community’s needs, agree priorities and encourage commissioners to work in an integrated way. The intention is that as a result, patients and the public should experience more joined-up services from the NHS and local councils in the future. Local boards are free to expand their membership to include a wide range of perspectives and expertise, such as representatives from the charity or voluntary sectors.

In addition each local authority will have a local Healthwatch organisation in their area. The aim of local Healthwatch will be to give citizens and communities a stronger voice to influence and challenge how health and social care services are provided within their locality. Local Healthwatch will also provide or signpost people to information to help them make choices about health and care services.

Add to this other bodies such as the NHS Commissioning Board, Public Health England and Healthwatch England to name but a few, and it becomes a complex maze to work oneself through. The intention is the make health and social care more integrated and responsive to the needs of the local community. Support for older people such as that provided by organisations like WRVS has never been more necessary given the constraints on central and local Government spending. It is in everyone’s interest to work towards making sure this new system delivers. Time will tell whether the changes bring about the transformation that is urgently required.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Thursday, 04 April 2013.

Labels: older people, Social Care, Health Care, NHS, welfare, wellbeing, healthwatch

Going nowhere fast?

We all know how frustrating it is to be left marooned when the car is off the road for repairs, or the buses are unreliable in bad weather – but for over 18,000 older people in Wales, this isolation through lack of decent transport is a daily reality. New WRVS research released today has found that 17% of older people in Wales have been hit by a reduction in public transport services, with many being left trapped at home through poor access to public or community transport.

Whilst the narrative of cuts in transport services is not new, it is about to get a whole lot more severe. The recent Welsh Government announcement of the merging of different funding streams for transport services has signalled a massive 26% reduction in subsidies for local transport services – and across Wales, the impact is already being felt as vital local services are withdrawn or cut to the bone.

Frustratingly, this is happening at exactly the time when those services are needed the most. Figures indicate that 66% of Welsh single pensioners do not have a car, and it has also been shown that 40% of households without a car feel that local bus services fail to meet their travelling needs to the local town or shops, and 65% believe services are inadequate for travel to their local hospital. Further cutbacks will make a bad situation worse, especially for older people – reliable local transport networks become increasingly significant as people get older, with journeys for essential items and social activities sometimes becoming more of a challenge.

At the heart of this is the extent to which transport planning takes account of the voices of older people. Today’s WRVS research indicates that older people feel dis-empowered and disenfranchised; 23% of respondents did not feel able to make comments or complaints about local transport services, and this clearly has an impact when services fail to meet their needs. It should shame us as a nation that nearly 20% of older people are unable manage the walk to/from their nearest public transport, and that many of that same group feel unable to do anything to challenge the system.

This is not, however, simply another request for more money. What today’s research underlines is that we can spend existing resources more shrewdly on services which protect the most vulnerable. Community transport (such as Bwcabus or WRVS services) is a great example, with schemes being viewed much more positively than regular public transport, and rural areas in particular benefiting from such services. Community transport is also rated extremely highly by users in terms of its social impact and for its social return on investment.

We need to help promote community transport, and ensure that funding is there for schemes to become sustainable in the longer-term. We should start by increasing the proportion of transport funding which has to be spent on community transport – realigning spending priorities to ensure that we keep vulnerable older people connected and independent. We also need to ensure that older people have an outlet to express formally their concerns about transport, so that their voice is not marginalised or ignored. Without these sorts of fundamental changes, we may find ourselves waiting for a bus that simply never comes.

Posted by Dr Ed Bridges, Public Affairs Manager (Wales) at 00:00 Monday, 25 March 2013.

Labels: older people, isolation, loneliness, transport, Wales, Welsh Government, Wellbeing

Growing old in the UK - is it all bad news?

Ageing_Across_Europe_reportWRVS’ recent report, Ageing Across Europe, produced by Demos, paints a stark picture of growing old in this country. Our older people are proven to be the loneliest, poorest and the most worried that they are discriminated against because of their age, of the countries examined.

But is it all doom and gloom? The whole point of looking at the countries that we did: Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the UK, was that these are countries that are in many ways – particularly in terms of wealth – similar to us. So we should be able to learn from the good things that Sweden and the Netherlands are doing (who came first and second on the experience of ageing, compared to our third) and replicate them in this country.

In Sweden, for example, there is a much greater focus on spending money on preventing health problems which get significantly worse later in life, by tackling the issues that cause them. So obesity, which we know can lead to diabetes in later life, is tackled earlier through public health programmes, as is smoking and drinking.

We do a lot of talking about “prevention” in this country, but given that this study shows that in the UK we have the highest prevalence of what is euphemistically called “life limiting illness” amongst older people, surely this is an indication that the public health messages to do with healthy eating and less drinking are not getting through? Or, at least, not as effectively as in those other countries. As David McCullough, WRVS chief executive, commented on the publication of the report – surely it should be a wake-up call for all of us?

So plenty of food for thought for local and central government, but what about for us as individuals? Well one interesting finding from the report, particularly from WRVS’ point of view, is that in Sweden and the Netherlands, there are much higher rates of volunteering. In Sweden - 55% of people volunteer, it’s 50% in the Netherlands , 45% of Germans volunteer and we lag behind at 26%. Separate WRVS research found that older people that volunteer actually improve their sense of wellbeing simply through helping others. People also get a sense of personal satisfaction from seeing their voluntary work is appreciated. Take note voluntary organisations – a pat on the back helps!

It’s common sense really that by giving back to your community, you are not only improving your own sense of worth, but you are also meeting people and staying active and so helping prevent the issues we so often, sadly, see amongst older people whereby they are housebound seeing few people, if any, from day to day. So, by volunteering, you help others but also help yourself. If encouraging more volunteering can help tackle the parlous state of ageing in this country, then that should be the positive that we can take from this shocking report.

Posted by Sarah Farndale, WRVS at 00:00 Wednesday, 06 June 2012.

Labels: Ageing, Wellbeing, Older people, Europe, volunteering, prevention, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands