Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Issues in Integration

Twelve weeks ago I went over on my ankle, it hurt. The swelling and bruising was pretty nasty but I just put it down to a twisted ankle that would clear itself up. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks it was still intensely painful so I went to the nearest A & E where they x-rayed it and told me I had a fracture, they gave me a pair of crutches (no other treatment) and told me they would get me an emergency fracture clinic appointment and I could expect a call on the next working day.

Two days later I finally got through to the clinic who mentioned they had seen something with my name on and could I come in later in the week.

At the fracture clinic I was told I didn’t have a fracture (they used the same x-rays) and it was severe wear and tear, even though I protested that my ankle was fine before going over on it, I was summarily dismissed with a piece of paper to give to my G.P. to arrange for physiotherapy.

When I got to the G.P. I was asked what the piece of paper was because hospitals do not normal send that bit of paper to G.P.s! However I had a telephone consultation arranged and was referred to the Physiotherapy Dept.  I then had to visit the G.P. because the pain was still intense and I was simply given a co-codamol prescription, again with little other advice.

It then took six weeks to get a physiotherapy appointment. While, of all the different elements of the NHS involved, the physiotherapy team have, undoubtedly, been the most helpful, once at my first appointment I had to relay all the details of my injury as they had no notes on my fracture clinic appointment or the history so far.

Because of the time lapse between referral and getting a physiotherapy appointment I had a follow up fracture clinic appointment after my second physio session. Again this was another frustrating experience, quick chat with consultant who I told I was still in pain, hour wait for x-ray, then back to consultant who told me there was definitely no fracture just evidence of an old injury. What old injury, I exclaimed, only to be dismissively told, “oh it might have been something minor” and then told to come back in six weeks.

Following week back to physiotherapy, who had no knowledge of fracture clinic appointment and I had to explain what had happened there.

That was last week and I still have bursts of intense pain

The point of this story? We have this long running debate on integration between health and social care yet it is evident within the health service alone there is no real integration and, while mine is a relatively minor injury, I have no doubt people with much more serious conditions suffer from the same frustrations of the lack of ‘joined-up’ care in the NHS.

Social care itself is not a ‘whole’; it is a combination of public sector and private sector services that because of those different sectors cannot fully be bought together efficiently. The bottom line is most of the private sector works for profit and the public sector works toward bureaucratic efficiency.

Integration: The act of combining parts to form a whole.

When we talk about integrated services for health and social care is this what we mean? For those who use services yes it is. Anyone who needs services wants an holistic approach, seamlessly receiving care and support from all aspects of the ‘system’, support with health, social care, housing etc. is, idealistically, delivered in a joined-up way that involves everyone responsible for delivering the services knowing exactly what everyone else is doing and working together toward a single purpose.

From a public sector point of view the issue is different. Technically speaking, integration would mean combining all the parts of the system into one and that is not likely to happen, so the key word here is collaboration rather than integration and this is where the difficulty often arises. Who is responsible for this collaboration, who takes the lead to ensure the individual needing services gets a seamless service?

Naturally people are territorial about their domains, and certainly ‘professionals’ can often give the impression of others not really knowing enough to give a valid opinion, so there is inevitably some tension between ‘professionals’ of different sectors. Yet this approach does not benefit the individuals who need the services which is why there must be clear, defined leadership.

Before there can be talk of, and delivery of, integrated services for those who need them there must be a clear demonstration that those services are themselves integrated as until that happens it means they will be unable to deliver on that which is truly desired.