Alison Keir, Vice Chair of the Allied Health Professions Federation Scotland reflects on the vital role that AHPs play in social care.
The National Care Service consultation represents an excellent opportunity to shape the future of social care delivery in Scotland. When I talk about the consultation with my members at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, we feel that there is one element that needs to be further highlighted and that is the role of Allied Health Professionals (AHPs).
We are hopeful that the outcome of the consultation will recognise the need for a fundamental shift towards early intervention and re-ablement. AHPs, including occupational therapists, will be central to this shift. In the short-term, this will require greater resources, but investing in people and addressing these problems sooner can save money in the long-term. It is the chance to be truly transformative in our approach to support in Scotland.
As people age or become ill, they begin to lose the ability to complete daily activities in a particular order. Once we know where a person is on their ageing journey we map out services, products, and support that will help that person to maintain, or even recover, daily abilities. If we focus on re-ablement and switch to community-based support, we can relieve the pressures on primary and acute care.
In moving from crisis to early intervention, AHPs adopt a holistic approach which assess independent living needs and focuses on what matters to the individual to help them live their best life. Evidence from the Scottish national LifeCurve survey[i] shows us that early intervention results in better outcomes for service users. It is also significantly more cost-effective to provide care early rather than wait until treatment needs are acute. If AHPs are given the opportunity to intervene earlier, our re-ablement and rehabilitation approach has the greatest potential to change ageing trajectories. Put simply, opportunities are missed if we do not intervene early.
In both physical and mental health, AHPs are involved in planning for care and support, enhancing independent living, and facilitating more good years of life. We should all be looking to adopt an outcomes-focused approach that places the service user and their ability to live their best life at its core. We can do this by prioritising prevention and early intervention in a National Care Service.
The emphasis on workforce planning and proposal for a national workforce planning framework in the consultation are both welcome. We believe the consultation should clarify what workforce this refers to and ensure it also includes AHPs. This framework should also be accompanied by a plan to help staff get the skills to plan their workforce for the future. Regardless of professional background or specialty, the social care workforce needs to be supported to deliver much-needed care across the board.
A lack of focus of the vital role that AHPs play in social care is detrimental to this consultation. This must not translate to a lack of awareness on the ground. By supporting AHPs to intervene early and provide essential re-ablement support, we can create a National Care Service that is significantly more cost-effective and, more importantly, addresses the needs of service users throughout Scotland.