Soo Vinnicombe, Professor Jane Noyes – Bangor University
The Social Services and Well-being Act (Wales), requires that local authorities and local health boards must jointly carry out an assessment of the needs for care and support, and the support needs of carers in the local authority areas.
The population needs assessments reports are made up of two sections:
- The assessment of need
- The range and level of services required
The goal of this exercise was to use the local authority population assessment reports to identify common pan-Wales priorities for social service needs which may then inform research gaps.
The 22 Local Authorities in Wales have approached this in partnership with appropriate other organisations and have combined with neighbouring local authorities where this makes sense.
In total, 7 sets of Population Needs Assessment reports were produced. Report themes included: children and young people; older people; health/physical disabilities; learning disability and autism; mental health; sensory impairment; carers who need support; domestic abuse and sexual violence; advocacy services; asylum seekers and refugees; homelessness; substance abuse; and veterans.
Common, pan-Wales, priorities identified in the evaluation, included:
- Public understanding. Greater public understanding could be used in different ways to help improve the lives of people affected by different life challenges. Some themes in particular, such as carers, mental health, autism and domestic violence, stressed the need for better public understanding.
- Client Focus. The reports show the need to ensure that clients clearly understand the support they can access and that they feel empowered to choose the most appropriate services for them as individuals through that support. To do this will require changes or improvements to ways in which clients are involved in service design and delivery.
- Transitions. Improvements are needed regarding the transitions that clients face. This could be the transition from young people to adult services, or for carers transitioning in to and out of the caring role.
- Information, advice and assistance. The reports acknowledge that information, advice and assistance is a key requirement of the role of local authorities and health boards and that a good provision of information can help clients and the general public to feel more empowered about the decisions they make around their social care and that of their families.
They note that information at the moment is not always available, consistent, provided in an accessible and timely format, or up-to-date.
- Community. The reports suggest that local authorities should more effectively use existing community provision. For example, by improving links with community organisations that can provide support to different groups.
The reports aspire to create more connected and supportive communities generally. Support can be through befriending, peer support, volunteering etc. Such activities emphasise the building of strong communities that can provide a sense of belonging and wellbeing.
- Non-commissioned provision. The reports acknowledge the growing role for third sector and commercial organisations in the provision of social care support.
- Training and staff. The reports stress the need for training to help social care and local authority staff to adapt to the new client focused approach and to allow them to comfortably adapt to the new requirements.
- Access. The majority of the reports point out that, even where there is provision, access continues to be an issue for certain groups or anyone who is geographically isolated. Each report outlines specific examples of areas where access is difficult or needs improvement.
- Budget. Budgets must be used as efficiently as possible, in some cases budgets should be redirected e.g. to prevention or alternative measures. Also, budget cuts should not impact on directly provided services and the ability of communities or individuals to cope with social care crises or daily occurring issues.
- Provision, quality and consistency. Specific areas were highlighted around provision, quality and consistency.
- Capacity. Capacity issues reported in the reports include: the difficulty in coping with increased demand, recruitment and retention of staff and a knock on effect on volunteer recruitment and training, and capacity in community and third sector organisations.
- Service flow – joined up services. All reports acknowledged issues around service flow – the need for each area of social care services to interact in an efficient and effective way with other social care services. Better integration or linking of these services could improve the client experience and help to ensure that planning for social care, individually and at population level, is long term, strategic and sustainable.
- Other services. There was a general acknowledgement in the reports that social care services in isolation could not solve all of the challenges faced by the nation. In addition to better ways of working between social care agencies, communities and third sector organisations, it was also suggested that other key service areas that can be better integrated should include: housing, transport, access to mental health, welfare, employment and education services.
The local authorities are using the outputs from the Population Needs Assessment reports to form action plans which are due to be released in April 2018. It is at that stage that the many suggestions and aspirations for improvements, highlighted in the evaluation carried out by Bangor University, can be translated into concrete actions.
Once the action plans are released a second phase of analysis will be carried out and followed by consideration of how NCPHWR could best input into the plans.
We are currently talking to the North Wales report co-ordinator about how the National Centre can be involved in the working groups that are emerging as part of the action plan development process.
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