At the end of May I had the pleasure of attending the annual Health and Social Care Integration event run by the ALLIANCE and supported by partners including NHS Scotland and the Scottish Association for Social Work. The event runs each year and it serves and an annual general meeting and conference, featuring workshops and panel discussions from people within the healthcare sector.
What is health and social care integration?
So what is this health and social care integration thing all about? Health and social care integration is all about putting the service user, i.e the person being cared for, at the centre of the decision making process and ensuring care providers such as carers, nurses, doctors, and family members work together to help the individual get the best treatment in a way that works for them. It’s quite a complex initiative involving a lot of policy, governance, and planning. It’s not easy getting your head around the scope of what the act seeks to achieve due to the number of organisations involved in the project, but ultimately what it seeks to achieve is to help people who require health or social care and the organisations that provide it, work together to provide the most effective care in a person centred and humane way.
The challenges of integration
The conference started out with a fantastic breakfast buffet and opportunity to mingle, before heading into the main room for an introduction to the event from the chair Pennie Taylor. This was followed by a talk from Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director for Healthcare at the Scottish Government, and panel debate from health and care professionals on their experiences with integration to date and what they feel needs to change to help this process. It is clear that integration is not an easy or straightforward process. What I learned is there are still many challenges in getting the various healthcare organisations to work together by sharing information and knowledge. Throughout the discussions it wasn’t particularly clear to me which elements of the process present the most significant difficulty, but what was highlight by the panel and audience contributions that a greater focus on the needs of the patient should be at the heart of the decision making process.
Integration and patient data
Later in the morning and in the afternoon there were various workshops available to attend in the breakout zones. The workshops covered topics such as money, work and wellbeing, housing, and transport and independence. I joined a couple of digital technology workshops focusing focused on patient data and the technical aspects of integration. I do a lot of work in digital media so it was very interesting to find out how the NHS and Scottish Government are approaching data sharing and the improvements in patient care as a result of this. I personally think patient data shared across multiple health and social care boards is a great thing. What this would mean is that if a patient was discharged from hospital but required follow up care from a home support worker, then the carer would have a much clearer understanding of the specific type of care the patient needs, instead of going into a care situation ill informed and being unable to help as much as they could were they armed with all the facts. The joined up approach makes perfect sense and I can only see how patient care would be dramatically improved as a result of it so I’m all for a joined up approach to patient data sharing, but I do have one concern and that is data security. I, and probably many others especially in light of the recent hacking of NHS computers, will want to be assured their medical records are safe and not in a position to be misused.
I learned a lot from the event. I now have a much clearer idea of what integration seeks to achieve and the huge number of benefits it can provide in reducing the strain on already overworked health boards and empowering the individual to have more say and control about what care they need and how it can be delivered. However, there is still some way to go before all the barriers to joint working between the NHS and local authorities are fully broken down.