So why so much attention on integrating services, particularly health and social services? Well it makes sense if the public sector is to move away from, sadly, what it has been very good at, for as long as I can remember and as long as I have been a part of it – so this is not written by a paragon of virtue!!
It is ‘giving people the run-around’
Ask anyone who is a regular user of both health and social services and they will be able to describe circumstances when they have been passed back and forth between agencies and professionals, often left to sort out the distinction between different agencies’ processes and their differing responsibilities, without help and support.
When to go to the council, when to the NHS, when to a voluntary organisation? And what are the consequences if you get it wrong? At best it can mean a delay and at worst, not having access to the right information and advice to help find a solution or response to what is troubling you.
So that is the reason that integration and collaboration between agencies is so important. It makes it easier for people to negotiate their way around the system, or usually the SYSTEMS. Seldom will it feel like one system.
‘Strengthening the Connections’ is trying to bridge the gap that people experience between NHS and local government, whilst recognising that there are also many other agencies involved in offering support to people when they need help, so there need to be easy links between and good relationships across all agencies. People do not live their lives in the boundaries of agencies’ responsibilities, so professional workers and agencies should be making it easy for someone to negotiate their way to gain support, not leave people stranded in what often feels like a very complicated system. Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and Welsh NHS confederation are working together on this project to make this happen, showing that it is possible to overcome differences, if we focus on our common aim, to improve the services available for people and their experiences of those services.
Welsh Government paid for this project as part of supporting the implementation of a very important piece of legislation currently making its way through National Assembly of Wales committees, the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Bill. The Bill makes an absolute priority of improving people’s lives, giving people control over their lives and removing unnecessary and unhelpful barriers for people to receive decent services
There are some important and common messages emerging from our work that will lead to real improvements:
Listen to what people tell you about what works and what doesn’t – do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Develop an understanding of the business of other agencies – this will stop you simply passing the buck to others and invite you to help people negotiate their way towards a decent service.
If you are doing something on your own, you are probably doing it wrong – as a front-line worker, look out for the other workers who are involved in the person’s life and make contact with them; as a manager, meet and talk with managers from other agencies and explore what you can do together – discover the joy of sharing responsibility!
Be prepared to let go of being in control of what happens – other people may have something helpful to offer and it is often the person who needs support, when given a voice, who can provide the clue to what will make a difference to their life
Strengthening the Connections means just that: we have to find ways to bring services together so that we build what we have to offer around people lives, rather than expecting people to fit into the boundaries that we have artificially created around professional behaviour and agency responsibilities.
However it is not easy, as we have to let go of how we have done things in the past and we have to allow others to influence what we do, but…..
Doing it differently is also much more fun, more challenging and calls on more creativity, as we find ways to move forward together and with the public that we serve.