Few people feel positive about all of the changes in the past few years to the way that health services are organised.
But one change has been widely welcomed – the creation of local health and wellbeing boards, bringing together all of the key organisations involved in health, social care and related services, with the aim of encouraging a joint approach to the key challenges facing their area.
Health and wellbeing boards are led by local councils – in Northumberland, the county council – and I chair our local board. In the difficult financial times we are still facing, it is particularly important that all the local public sector organisations join forces to address the challenges facing local people.
At our most recent board meeting, we discussed how we could work together to address two issues of particular current concern – the impact of austerity on people who depend on social security to maintain their independence and dignity, and coordinated action to ensure that Northumberland’s growing number of older people can remain socially connected if their health declines.
In both cases, one of the key conclusions is that we need to work better together to prevent changes in society and the economy from causing people avoidable harm. We discussed a range of initiatives which are linking public sector organisations with the voluntary and community sector to produce a more coordinated response to the challenges.
Citizens Advice Bureaux across the county have begun to come together in a new organisation which will share resources and expertise, to ensure that people have access to reliable advice services in hard times.
The Alnwick and Berwick Bureaux are already part of the new joint organisation, and have played a leading role in its creation. They are linked with the wider Northumberland Advice Network of voluntary and community organisations, which in turn is developing close links with the council-funded scheme that provides emergency assistance for people facing immediate hardship.
‘Support planners’ working for social services have been helping older people in danger of social isolation to access community support provided by voluntary organisations and small local groups.
The Bell View project in Belford has established a scheme for people who have just been discharged from hospital which provides a pack of food to tide them over the first few days at home.
From small local community groups to the large organisations which run hospitals and community health and social services, we need to understand that in difficult times, we are most effective working together.