In 2005, my father passed away with dementia. For the last 12 years I have looked after nearly 80 patients in care homes in his memory, and learned much about dementia care, but also about myself. It’s also led to my involvement in local politics and helped me realise the vital importance of integrating health and social care. I believe that as clinicians, we need to influence this debate.
Better integration of health and social care has never been more obvious as a solution to the ongoing problems affecting both of these vital sectors. The COVID pandemic has brought this to the fore in the last 6-8 months, as well as the need to have a solution that resolves the current crisis in social care and properly funds and resources all aspects of health and care.
Social care, predominantly funded through local authorities across England, has been struggling to resource the level of care many people need within the community as well as in residential and nursing homes. As a result, extra burden has been put on individual patients and their families to either cover the cost of care themselves or go without.
We need to remove the postcode lottery that exists in England, impacting the availability and quality of care that people receive. Therefore the Government need to significantly up the funding that social care receives and deliver it through a similar funding stream to that of the NHS, so that more care services can be provided for free to all those who need it.
Better integration of the health and social care workforce will go a long way and help to fix many of the issues that exist today. For example, bringing together carers and social care workers with health professionals such as GPs, occupational health professionals and physiotherapists will make the discharge process much smoother for patients leaving secondary care for either their own homes or a nursing home environment.
Integration of health and social care is key to keeping people healthy and living in their own homes for longer.
To help achieve this, firstly, great investment is needed to boost the social care workforce. They need to be valued and provided with good career progression and financial recognition, to encourage people to enter and stay in the profession. Their terms of employment should mirror that of NHS employees.
In addition, joint training between the staff in each sector will encourage better communication, help them gain a better understanding of how they both work and ultimately lead to improvements in patient care. The power of IT also should not be forgotten. Having one single operating system across primary care, secondary care, social care and community care is fundamental to the success in integration and reform.
Integration of health and social care is key to keeping people healthy and living in their own homes for longer. This is ultimately what we want to achieve. Providing investment and resources to enable this to happen will save money, not only for individual people, but also for the Government, as fewer people will need to access more costly long-term NHS and care services further down the line.
This is a subject that is very important to the BMA committee on community care, so we have been working closely with our policy staff to call on Government to overhaul social care and give it what it needs to not only survive, but also meet the standards required to provide people with the level of care they need and deserve. Take a look at the recent report, Calling for action for social care in England, to see our key asks.
Ivan Camphor is a GP, senior partner at Heatherlands Medical Centre and chair of the BMA committee on community care