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OTs are key to supporting independent living

As a recent report has highlighted, occupational therapists can play a vital role in helping people recover from or manage illness, injury or disability, reducing pressure on hospitals and social care services.

"We will do more to support people to manage their own health – staying healthy, making informed choices of treatment, managing conditions and avoiding complications” says the NHS Five Year Forward View. With the challenges of an ageing population and the government's plans to move to seven-day services, it's widely acknowledged that this can only be achieved by creating new models of service delivery.  Wherever possible, care needs to be refocused to relieve pressure on doctors and nurses in hospitals. Consequently, for some time there have been calls to increase the role of allied health professionals, such as occupational therapists. There is also room for more involvement from specialists such as Eating Disorder Nurses, Education Nurses and others across the HCA.

In December last year a summit was held to discuss a more joined up approach to use of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs), which are intended to enable independent living by funding changes to the disabled person's home.  Hosted by the College of Occupational Therapists and Foundations, the National Body of Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs), the event was summarised in a follow-up report published earlier this year. Recommendations in the report include the creation of co-located teams of HIA staff and occupational therapists to ensure better communication and create a seamless service for clients.

Allied health professionals make up 6% of the NHS workforce, with more working in social care, housing and local government, not to mention the voluntary and private sectors. However, the role they play in healthcare has not traditionally been as ‘visible’ in the public eye. 

"The focus of the NHS has primarily been on extending lives, "said Karen Middleton, CEO of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, "which of course is a great thing, but what we haven't paid attention to - in staffing, data, prioritising, or even targets - is the quality of that life. The minute you do, you start focusing on prevention, keeping people healthy, which many of the allied health professions are involved in."

Reablement services

It's not just the disabled and those living with long-term conditions who can benefit from the expertise of occupational therapists. As we discussed in a previous blog post, OTs are also central to reablement services, helping those recovering from illness or injury become independent more quickly and need less ongoing care. 

Sussex Community NHS Trust and West Sussex County Council are trialling a new single rehabilitation pathway to ease the transition from hospital to community care. "We want to avoid therapists taking on an administrative role and enable them to offer support in the home,” commented Paula McGaughey, the Council's Acting Operations Manager. "At the same time we are cutting bureaucracy in relation to access to equipment."

With the UK population increasing and the proportion of over 65s set to rise to 23% by 2035, putting in place a strong framework to enable independent living makes good sense, not just in terms of patient welfare, but also because it will reduce pressure on other frontline NHS resources. "The old models of care are not working,” argued NHS England Chairman Sir Malcolm Grant in a speech at the Allied Health Professions Officers' Conference last year. "That's why we need to bring all our Allied Health Professionals to work together." 

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