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Making it work: involving older people in their own care

“Leave it to the professionals”. That phrase typifies an attitude that has traditionally been taken by health, social care and housing professionals in relation to planning, managing and delivering  care to older people. However, with an increasingly older population – the Office of National Statistics predicts nearly 17million people aged 65+ by 2035 – this approach is neither sustainable, nor desirable.

Research carried out by gerontologists Professor Glenda Cook and Professor Jan Reed at Northumbria University created a framework based on six principles to effectively involve older people in decision making processes. When put into practice this approach has allowed older people an instrumental role in planning service re-designs and new services that are appropriate and relevant to the needs of their generations. 

Northumberland FISHNETS (Fit Involved Safe Healthy older people through community NETworks) was part of 29 nationwide pilots set up to test new services and delivery mechanisms to transform care services from reactive to preventative and enabling. The governing board was made of 50/50 of older people and service managers from a range of mix of sectors.  Older people were given a central leadership role making key decisions concerning budgets, planning and championing pioneering services that they viewed as important to the quality of life of older people. The evaluation of the FISHNETS initiative was led by Prof Pam Dawson (formerly at Northumbria University) and applied the principles of involvement arising from Reed and Cook’s research..

Many of the services developed through Northumberland FISHNETS between October 2006 and October 2008 were mainstreamed and sustained. These included a county-wide handyman service for modifying people’s homes to enable them to ‘age-in-place’ and a new telecare assistive service  which now provides telecare to more than 2,000 clients in Northumberland.

Involvement of service users has become a commonly-accepted principle in health and social care in the UK. Professors Reed and Cook’s work was cited during the consultation on the recent reforms to the Adult Social Care Bill. The bill puts the individual at the heart of the legal framework and central to decision making processes within service planning and was approved by the House of Lords in 2013.

Additional Information
An action research evaluation of Northumberland FISHNETS
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