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More must be done to improve prevention services in England

22 February 2016

A new report by the British Red Cross suggests that English local authorities must do more to provide services which prevent, reduce or delay the need for care and support.

The report comes at a time when cuts to local services have been particularly under scrutiny.

It has long been recognised that ‘prevention is better than cure’. However, the UK’s health and social care system has historically focused on reacting to crises rather than preventing them.

The introduction of the Care Act from April 2015 sought to change this. It placed a new duty on English councils to make sure preventative services were available locally.

But almost one year on, the Red Cross has discovered that the Care Act’s vision for prevention is not being fully realised.

Change is needed

There are some positive signs. More than 80 per cent of local authorities have developed or are in the process of developing a local approach to prevention. Some even look to be performing well, such as the London Borough of Bexley.

But on the whole the report highlights a severe lack of understanding, innovation and development across England. 

For example, the Care Act set out a triple-definition of prevention. The aim was to add clarity and ensure preventative services are available at all stages of a patient’s condition or illness.

Yet too few local authorities and only 12 out of 151 joint Health and Wellbeing strategies are using the official definition.

Without a proper understanding of the duties required, local authorities cannot hope to provide effective services.

The report therefore recommends that all Health and Wellbeing boards and local authorities ensure they use the full definition of prevention as the basis of their preventative planning.

'New’ services are actually late

The Red Cross also found that over a third of local authorities reported developing or investing in new prevention services.

However in many cases the services cited as ‘new’ tended to be those seed-funded by government during the last 15 years, such as telecare and handyperson’s services.

In other words these were services that should already have been implemented.

Even with budget constraints, the report urges local authorities to continue to look for ways to invest in a broad range of intervention.

Government must support local authorities

Talking about the findings, our policy and advocacy manager Chloe Carter said:

"Local authorities must continue to look for ways to invest in new and innovative preventative interventions but they can’t do this alone.

“At a time when budgets are tight, we urge Government to look again at how to best enable local authorities to implement the Care Act’s new duties in a meaningful way.

"It is only through such investment that we can hope to increase and improve the provision of prevention services in England.”

A false economy

Failing to adequately fund prevention and social care is a false economy. We are calling on the Government to look again at what resources are required to enable local authorities to implement these new duties in a meaningful way.

Our report intends to help decision makers make the transition to better preventative care. It provides a national picture of local developments and highlights areas of good practice.

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