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What will the future of health and social care look like?

Posted on 14/10/2015

It might seem a long way off for some of us, but you never know when you might need to use health and social care services, either for yourself or a loved one.

It is a worrying time for these services, with the current system often being described as being “in crisis”.  According to a report by the BBC an estimated 1.5 million older people have to rely on family and friends to meet their care needs, as the number of people eligible for support drops and costs go up. It says that the Local Government Association predicts a shortfall of over £4 billion by 2020. This is coupled with the fact that, according to another BBC report, two thirds of people who ask the council for support, do not receive any help.

More people are also likely to need support in the coming years as well, with a million more older people expected to be living with multiple long-term health conditions by 2020, says Age UK. This is due to us living longer than ever before.

Clearly, the future of health and social care needs addressing, to meet the rising demand on the system, but what can be done?

The Government’s Future of Ageing: Health and Social Care Services report looks at the current configuration of the health and social care system, and makes recommendations for the future. It address the key issues that the system is set to face: multiple long-term chronic illnesses in one person; dementia, being one of the most costly of all chronic illnesses; social isolation and loneliness, and their impact on health; management of chronic illnesses moving from secondary to primary care; and the need to integrate services.

A lot of its plans are based on prevention as much as cure, particularly when it comes to dementia. Statistics show that primary prevention can help to delay the onset of dementia conditions. These primary prevention methods include exercise, cognitive activity and training, social engagements, mental health (depression has been associated with increased risk of dementia) and diet and nutrition. The future prospect will depend on finding ways to educate people about the importance of these primary factors to ease pressure on the system later on. It will also require good community-based services to help address these issues in later life, encouraging older people to stay physically and mentally active.

It also emphasises the importance of informal carers, which are usually family members or close friends, who give support to those people who are not eligible for state help. Without these people, the care system would be in even greater crisis. Home care of this type helps people to stay independent and in their own home for longer, freeing local government resources, however the report says that more needs to be done to maintain the health and wellbeing of family carers.

The report sums up by saying: “From a longer-term perspective, two key areas of NHS care require detailed consideration to address current socio-demographic changes: firstly, workforce configuration and professional training, and secondly, the creation of a more-integrated community-based health and social care workforce.”

Some councils are already finding different ways to approach the issues of health and social care services in the community. A story in The Guardian highlights the work of Dorset’s three councils (Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole) in launching Tricuro, which is a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) – one possible solution to the current funding cuts and service demand crisis. An LATC is owned by its council, but they operate in a commercial manner to provide health and social care services, meaning that they can generate money, which can then improve its, and the council’s, services. It offers residential services, day care and catering, providing support to local authority funded service users and making an income from people who receive direct payments and self-funders.  Only a few councils have introduced LATCs, but it is likely that this is something that we will see increase in the future.

The future of health and social care is still somewhat uncertain. The challenges that it faces are clear, but finding a solution that works will take time. You can find out more about the current system, entitlements and options in the Service Users section on our website. 

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