The term ‘prevention’ is used increasingly freely in public services at the moment. But what is the reality of shifting the focus of services away from reaction and towards prevention? We worked with the Welsh Government (the Public Service Leadership Group’s Effective Services for Vulnerable Groups programme) to bring together some practical examples of how organisations have approached this ‘prevention’ agenda in the form of a seminar. We also wanted get the people working to deliver public services into a room and ask them what their own experiences were.
I’d like to share some of the delegate’s positive experiences of striving towards prevention and also what they’re struggling with on a day-to-day basis.
Firstly, there are some good examples of public services looking beyond their own specific areas of expertise. The Fire and Rescue Services are a clear example, when they have taken a holistic view of people’s wellbeing within their homes. We also heard from Cardiff Alcohol Treatment Centre, where diverse sectors (such as the Students’ Union, the Council licensing department and health bodies) are all benefiting from one project. Public Health Wales also discussed their work in connecting General Practices to community assets for health and wellbeing, for instance by ensuring a community health worker is based in GP surgeries.
There are also some excellent opportunities within the role of voluntary sector. Delegates emphasised the role they can play in taking over some responsibility from public sector for prevention, and the additional resources they can provide for specialist preventative work. A WCVA representative discussed the early intervention work that the sector is already doing in communities. However, they felt that many people don’t know how much they can actually offer and that there is much more scope to involve the voluntary sector not as a ‘third’ sector but as an integral part of community preventative services.
Finally, there are examples of organisations willing to take well-managed risks and adapt new approaches as they go. Isle of Anglesey Council discussed their work on transforming children services, moving from safe certainty to safe uncertainty. As Bromford have done, Cartrefi Conwy discussed work on tenant profiling, to move away from one-size-fits-all approach and adapt to each client. We heard examples of how very small shifts in resources such as these, combined with a willingness to launch imperfect services and adapt as necessary, can have big effect on developing preventative services.
However, we also discussed a range of challenges that delegates experiences in their day-to-day roles. The first and perhaps most expected of these was funding. In particular, how to strike a balance between funding statutory services and funding innovative prevention approaches. Moreover, if prevention activities are successful, there is often an expectation that expenditure will lessen over time. But these resources are still needed to maintain prevention work.
Secondly, how do you demonstrate the benefits of preventative work? How do you demonstrate something that you stopped from happening? This was a particular challenge for delegates when the financial or other outcomes of their prevention activities are by others.
You can see all the presentations on our website, as well as some more of the key ideas that were raised during the day.