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Local and health authorities must plan all year round to help prevent the crisis at Christmas for many elderly peop...
Local and health authorities must plan all year round to help prevent the crisis at Christmas for many elderly people, the LGA has said in a five-point plan to tackle winter pressures launched today.

Following publication of the NHS plan, the LGA has written to all local authorities urging them to develop effective year-round strategies with local health partners to improve social care for older people and eradicate bed blocking.

Cllr Rita Stringfellow, chair of the LGA's social affairs and health executive, said: `Behind the headlines about flu epidemics and bed-blocking lies the increasingly serious problem of preventable illness amongst older people.

`Winter stays in hospital are often very distressing for older people and too little has been done in the past to develop the long-term strategies that would tackle this problem. GP's and social services are often the first ports of call for elderly people and we need to ensure that the healthcare and support services they receive are effectively integrated.

`Local authorities have a critical role to play in planning and delivering care services in the home or local community that can alleviate winter pressures. Evidence shows that continuous year-round planning and investment in services by councils, health authorities and their partners will reduce hospital admissions amongst elderly people', she said.

The LGA's plan says local authorities should: `Turn winter pressures planning into an effective all-year round prevention agenda; Maximise the contribution of all council services to tackle winter pressures; Take the lead in developing innovative partnerships with the NHS; Make maximum use of new powers to jointly deliver new services tailored to the needs of individuals not institutions; and Consult with users and carers in service provision.

With several local authority functions such as housing and transport relevant to the planning and provision of preventative health and social care services, the LGA plan emphasises the importance of a corporate, whole authority approach.

Cllr Stringfellow said: `This is by no means just an issue for social services. It is an agenda for the whole of local government and its partners in the health services.

`I am delighted that the LGA has established a programme of action to focus on winter pressures and that the support of older people as key members of our communities is a fundamental part of the Association's Manifesto which was launched this week as part of Local Democracy Week 2000.

`The NHS plan is explicit about the need for integrated health and social care services and it is vital that all local authorities grasp this agenda and work to form effective partnerships with colleagues in the health services to make a real difference this and every other winter', she said.

A copy of the LGA's five point plan for local authorities follows.

The LGA's five point plan to help tackle winter pressures

With the colder months now on the horizon, concern has already started to mount about the potential for another winter crisis in healthcare for vulnerable people. The ability of the NHS and social services to provide effective and timely care is once again under the spotlight, with demand for services set to rise as temperatures drop.

Older people are particularly at risk. Behind the headlines about bed-blocking and flu scares lies an increasingly urgent problem of preventable illness amongst older people, needless stays in hospital and a failure to provide a range of care options in the home or local community.

Councils have already established a strong track record in tackling these winter pressures despite growing resource constraints. But it is clear that even more must be done this year if we are to ensure that older people receive the care they need, when and where they need it.

The LGA is therefore encouraging local government to commit itself to an ambitious agenda over the coming months. By developing new partnerships with our health colleagues, devising new models of integrated provision and drawing on the contribution of all council services, we believe we can break new ground in standards of care not just during the coldest months but all year round.

The LGA pledges to work with member authorities:

1. To maximise the contribution of all council services to tackling winter pressures

Effective planning to tackle bed blocking must go beyond social care to embrace all council services, which are vital to the quality of life of older people. This includes:

* housing services which can tackle damp and poorly insulated accommodation and provide improvements to enable people to stay in their own homes;

* advice services to ensure that older people claim the benefits they are entitled to, including help with fuel costs;

* successful community safety strategies that give older people the confidence to live in their homes and local communities;

* leisure services that provide sessions for older people to help prevent ill-health.

2. To take the lead in developing innovative partnerships with the NHS

The newly developing Primary Care Groups and Trusts provide a vital opportunity to forge new partnerships between local councils and the NHS. There is already evidence that these partnerships can deliver results, with rapid response teams and improved intermediate care saving hospital beds for those who need them most.

Local government is committed to delivering a step change in the level of joint working on winter pressures, to ensure that there is real co-ordination between different organisations at the local level.

3. To make maximum use of new powers to jointly deliver services tailored to meet the needs of individuals not institutions

Legislation passed last year provided a new toolkit of measures to help the NHS and local government develop more integrated models of care. This will further accelerate the creation of multi-disciplinary teams of health and social care specialists to cut through red tape and ensure that tailored packages of care can be provided to individuals in their own homes.

The recently published NHS plan will help drive forward these new ways of working. But local government is also ready to play its part in making sure these new flexibilities make a real difference on the ground. Over the coming months, the LGA will be rolling out a programme of good practice workshops and publications to ensure that all local authorities meet the standards of the best.

4. To consult with users and carers in the planning and provision of services

If we are to provide effective and timely care this winter, the needs of users and carers must be at the heart of service planning and delivery.

Local councils have significant experience of consulting local people on community services. We are committed to building on this to ensure that a full range of services are in place this winter to meet the needs of those vulnerable to ill health.

5. To turn winter pressures planning into an effective year-round prevention agenda

Tackling winter pressures is clearly an urgent priority for local government and the NHS, given the unnecessary distress suffered by thousands of people each winter. But it is equally clear that health and social services face pressures at many other times of the year which could be avoided with better planning and prevention.

The next challenge must therefore be transforming winter pressures strategies into an effective year- round prevention agenda. Local councils are ready to take the lead in developing this agenda, working with our NHS colleagues to identify those most at risk and ensuring that support mechanisms are in place before crisis hits.

Taking the agenda forward

The NHS Plan clearly put partnership working between health and local councils at the heart of the new NHS. Care for older people will be the litmus test of new ways of working and the measure of whether they drive up standards for those in real need.

The LGA believes that the Plan provides a vital opportunity to build on the work that is already taking place to provide more integrated health and social care. We have therefore written to all local authorities to encourage them to continue their work on winter pressures and to put into practice these five central elements. The Association will be providing further advice and support to councils over the coming months.

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