Ditch ‘prevention’!

This is the last blog in a series inspired by a seminar with social care leaders which looked at the question of citizen and community-led change.

It became clear early on in the discussion that some people had arrived expecting a debate about ‘social capital’ and community development, whilst others had been expecting a debate about early intervention and prevention. Personally, I believe that both of those concepts do, or should, mean much the same thing. Put another way, soon after I agreed to become the ‘co-lead’ on prevention and early intervention for the social care White Paper, I decided that given the choice, I’d drop the language of prevention and early intervention entirely and replace it with the language of well-being, empowerment and citizen-leadership.

Sue Bott of Disability Rights UK reacted to talk of prevention like this: “People who use services don’t want to be divided into the fixable and the not-fixable”. The problem is that prevention is all about people’s problems (will you be a drain on resources?) whereas the things ‘preventative services’ wish to achieve, are best achieved by focusing on people’s gifts, skills and assets.

‘Early intervention’ is just as bad: if the territory of ‘prevention’ is all about tackling isolation, helping people to connect and empowerment, those are outcomes which are just as relevant to the person who has just started to become less mobile in later life, the person with a life-long physical impairment or the person at the end of their life. No one wants to be lonely: whatever else is going on in your life, being lonely is miserable and worse for you than smoking.

So I think it’s time to move on from thinking about how to save money through reducing NHS admissions, which might involve coming up with wheezes which simply transfer the cost to social care, and instead think whole-person and whole-community. People will always need specialist responses and hopefully those responses will continue to become more coordinated, skilled and efficient. But the real gains will come when all services, whether they are used by people with ‘low level’ or ‘high level’ needs, think beyond meeting the present need and towards increasing the likelihood that the individual – and often their community – will be more knowledgeable, networked and confident in future.

If we can get that right, not only will more people be able to live a good life, with fewer trapped in a cycle of dependence and ‘revolving door’ use of crisis services, but savings generated will be more likely to be real, and to the public purse as a whole, not just to one sector or another.

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