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Wales Audit Office - The Welsh public sector needs to shift its focus to maintain the independence of older people

Many preventative services are undervalued raising concerns that demand for health and social services will continue to rise

The leadership and strategies of Councils in Wales are failing to always recognise the important role that non health and social care services play in supporting and sustaining the independence of older people, this is according to a report released today by the Auditor General for Wales.

The report, a study by the Wales Audit Office, supported by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and the Older Peoples Commissioner in Wales, found that while councils have identified the independence of older people as a priority, their strategies and plans do not always recognise the positive contribution made by partners and many non-health and social services which could reduce demand for expensive health and social services.

The study was supported by a Wales-wide citizen survey which asked people to rate which services were most important in helping them maintain independence. It was noted that many preventative advice and information services, practical support services, housing and housing based services as well as community based facilities have seen significant cuts to their budgets in the last year. This  includes four of the five preventative services which are most valued by those completing the survey in maintaining their independence. The survey also found that while many older engaged citizens (97 percent) were aware of the need to make savings, more than half were unaware of where cuts would be made and a third had not been told how it would affect them.

They study  found  that cuts to key services are at odds with some of the priorities of the Welsh Governments Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 which is promoting  lower level prevention services as a means to reduce demand for high-intensity, high-cost health and social services.  The report notes that the impact of austerity and the demands of an ageing population in Wales are set to make the challenge of delivering preventative services more difficult.

In all the report makes six recommendations for improvement, five to councils in Wales and one specifically for the Welsh Government, these include:

  • Councils realigning the work of older people’s strategy coordinators to support the development and delivery of plans for services that contribute to the independence of older people;
  •  Improving engagement with and dissemination of information to older people; and
  • Improved strategic planning and better coordination of services for older people.

The report also includes a self-assessment checklist for councils to use to focus on where they need to improve their current services.

Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas said today:

“It is important that the perception that older people are primarily recipients of health and social care services is one that is challenged. As this report states there is an imbalance in the emphasis we place on prevention and in line with my recommendations I would be keen to see this addressed in order to allow people in Wales to maintain their independence into older age”

Sarah Rochira, The Older Peoples Commissioner in Wales added:

“If we continue to cut spending on preventative services then we continue to isolate our older people. We need to enable our older people and shift the reliance away from care services and look more closely at the value of services that maintain independence and promote wellbeing. To do that councils in Wales need to get better at speaking to older people, gathering the right information and then providing services based on current needs rather than future demand”

Imelda Richardson,  Chief Inspector of Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales added:

“Last year, as one of the recommendations in our commissioning review, we described the need for local authorities to consider carefully the contribution of community-based services to the well-being of residents as part of their service planning. This new report is another reminder to local authorities on how vital these services are in supporting older people to live independently. Not only do they greatly improve the well-being of older people, but as local authorities have a big challenge ahead in terms of making savings in their budgets, these services can save money in the long term.”

View report: Supporting the Independence of Older People: Are Councils Doing Enough?

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