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Use the strengths of local communities to improve services

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Janet doesn’t like parsnips. And she tells that to Clare, who visits her regularly. Clare brings a meal that she’s made, as part of her work in the Casserole Club. All of the ingredients are fresh and don’t include items that Janet hates, like those nasty parsnips. This is just one example of innovation going on around the country.

Other examples I’ve heard about recently include: a handy-person service, which helps to secure rails so that people can stay at home longer; a ‘phone-neighbour’ scheme where isolated people call each other regularly; and a hospital-discharge programme which sees volunteers help people to re-establish themselves at home.

One of the things we’ve been banging on about at SCIE recently is the need to free up communities so that the strength of those communities can be part of the care and support on offer locally. It’s there in the Care Act under using ‘strength-based approaches’; put simply – using the assets of local communities.

Others may see that as an obvious thing to do, but the people running the services I talk about above are thinking creatively, and are being innovative. We want to encourage the whole health and social care system to look at how to address this.

Joe Fowler, director of commissioning, Sheffield City Council, told us at a recent roundtable event that if community-led groups can demonstrate that they are identifying, engaging and benefiting people at risk, then that’s enough evidence to support a commissioning decision. This is encouraging.

The Care Act is good in pinning down good and consistent expectations of care quality over things like safeguarding, advocacy, assessment/eligibility, and carers. However, where we need concerted effort is in the repositioning of services as being there to remove barriers, not just to participation, but to contribution too.

So, how will we look back on an era where, in often ignoring a lot of untapped potential, we’ve simply told people that their job is to ring social services – who then act in good faith and because they are short of community alternatives, get the person into a rickety bus and transport them to and from a day centre? Care and support has to start from, and be framed around, people. And professionals need to learn to work alongside those who use services.

A bit like Janet and her parsnips. Services that are designed, delivered and evaluated with service users and carers are, quite simply, better services, producing better care experiences and outcomes.

Tony Hunter, chief executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence, and former chief executive, North East Lincolnshire Council

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