The response from the Minister for Health to the Bengoa report provides new hope that long awaited reforms to our health and social care services will be taken forward.
The importance of achieving political buy-in is widely recognised and will be key to successful implementation of the Minister’s vision and the Bengoa recommendations. Also vital, of course, will be public support and professional commitment to bring about changes that are intended to transform delivery of health services across Northern Ireland. Engaging with older people, involving them in shaping, co-designing and monitoring implementation will go some way to ensure services are fit for purpose.
For over a decade we have talked about the benefits of early intervention and prevention, and of care being provided as close to home as possible. What has been missing, however, has been a determined shift of resources to community based services which enable older people to live independently, with dignity and security, free from poverty, feeling less lonely and isolated, having choice and control over how they manage their life.
It will, of course, be essential that the proposed reforms consider the impact on the delivery of social care services. The decision by the Minister on the establishment of a Social Care Commission has yet to be made. Our integrated health and social care structure should provide us with an opportunity to join up and deliver person centred care. Social care services, provided through a range of statutory, voluntary and community organisations, act as a lynchpin to prevent and address pressures elsewhere in the health system. We need to learn from innovative projects, like Living Well , about the models which deliver better outcomes for everyone involved - improving the health and well being of older people in receipt of support; a reduction in costs for health and social care; as well as improving the experience of professionals who deliver the service.
The arguments for change – increasing levels of need, constrained resources, technological advances and rising expectations – are well known. Hopefully, agreement on the structural reforms required to deliver effective health and social care services, fit for the 21st century will mean that we can now move forward and tackle other longstanding issues around the rights of older people in care; the lack of clarity around eligibility for care services and the absence of clear guidance on payment for accessing health care outside a hospital setting.
Age NI Head of Policy and Influencing