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Transforming later-life care

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 17

Design Council’s communications manager, Chris Finnegan, explains how an innovative new partnership between health and social care professionals, social entrepreneurs and the public could help tackle the growing concern of how best to develop sustainable later-life care and improve our experience of ageing.

Today, for the first time in history, Britain’s over-65s outnumber people under the age of 16. What’s more, by 2020 it’s predicted that almost half of the adult population will be over 50. It’s not just that people are living longer; people are living longer with increasingly complex health conditions. This creates huge demand on an already stretched health and social care system. One of the triumphs of the previous century – a vastly improved life expectancy – looks set to be one of the great challenges of this one. 

‘Transform Ageing’ is Design Council’s new cross-sector initiative. It brings together people in later life, social entrepreneurs and health and social care leaders to define, develop and deliver innovative new solutions that support the needs and aspirations of people in later life. Ultimately, its goal is to help design a better experience of ageing, for everyone. 

Last summer, the Big Lottery Fund saw the potential in our ambition, and the programme received £3.65m. Since then, Design Council has worked alongside UnLtd, the South West Academic Health Science Network and the Centre for Ageing Better to launch the programme in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Together, we are now recruiting delivery organisations in those localities to get the programme off the ground, directly connecting with local people to help shape and design solutions. 

Through first-class research, collaborative working and rigorous design, Transform Ageing will help local communities to influence how their care needs are handled. By directly engaging with local people, we can identify the key health and social care challenges they face. In turn, care leaders and social entrepreneurs can combine to generate tangible, creative and lasting solutions to meet the needs of the south west. These, we hope, can then be adapted and rolled out elsewhere in the UK – and even beyond. 

We must start by breaking down the barriers between different stakeholder groups and involving everyone from the outset. This creates collaborative environments that encourage a user-led approach. Not least, we must help health and social care leaders find opportunities to try new ideas while managing risk, and help them to understand the core design principle that ‘iteration’ does not necessarily mean ‘failure’. 

The programme has been welcomed by health and social care leaders as an important step in improving services for people in later life. Former care minister Paul Burstow said: “Transform Ageing offers a practical approach to making communities in the south west more age-ready, using design innovation that starts with the experience of people in their later lives and taps into the energy of social entrepreneurs and the insight of health and local government to devise practical solutions. 

“Above all, this programme has the potential to deliver new, scalable and sustainable solutions that meet the needs and aspirations of our ageing communities across the UK. It could make a real difference to people in their later lives.” 

It’s essential to support commissioners to feel more confident in incorporating new services and interventions into mainstream care supply chains, and social entrepreneurs to scale their solutions and provide evidence of their impact to enable them to be commissioned. In order to do this, local communities, individuals, carers, family, friends and professionals in each of these regions need to be at the heart of the process. 

It’s Transform Ageing’s job to work with local organisations to make that happen. That’s why the partnership’s first steps are to recruit up to four delivery organisations (or consortia of organisations), ideally one each in Cornwall, Somerset, north east and west Devon, and south Devon. We believe that cross-sector collaboration will bring about a health and care system that is more personalised, more connected and, above all, more preventative. 

Over the coming months, the partnership will be engaging local health and social care leaders, voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, social entrepreneurs and people in later life and their support networks to become involved in the programme. We are looking for committed groups and individuals who would like to support new thinking and approaches, and develop new and exciting products and services that will transform people’s experience of later life. 

Time is of the essence. We want the best health and social care innovations, services and products to reach people in later life as quickly as possible. Working together, we can achieve just that. Our vision is that by creating services better aligned to real-life needs and issues, everyone’s experience of ageing will be improved.

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