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Bridge worker pilot scheme looks to revolutionise care of the elderly

Dartmouth Caring : 24 August, 2010  (Company News)
The ‘Bridge Worker’ role, which has been created in South Devon by charity Dartmouth Caring and NHS Devon, is offering a glimpse of the future for care of the vulnerable and elderly.
The initiative aims to ‘bridge’ the gaps between the voluntary sector, health service and social services – by using the bridge workers to ‘signpost’ need and call in the services that their clients need prior to serious medical conditions developing.

Not only is it an early warning system, but it also provides a managed return to the community for those coming out of hospital, linking the NHS to the volunteer sector even more strongly.

This exciting role is the first to be jointly funded by a charity and the NHS. It will integrate health and social care in local communities of Britain, and improve services for local people.

The ultimate goal is for patients to spend less time in hospital. The elderly and vulnerable in our society will have the treatment they have been calling for – by heath and social care professionals they know, in their own home wherever possible, then followed through by the volunteer sector in one process of communication. It will put patients at the centre of the care they receive.

The Bridge Worker role is co-funded by NHS Devon and Dartmouth Caring - a charity based in the south Devon town that aims to care for and help the elderly and vulnerable adults in whatever way possible. The charity’s staff are support workers for all its clients and also run a weekly Lunch Club, do shopping trips, conduct home visits and many other services too, often working alongside dedicated volunteers. Dartmouth Caring volunteer drivers do thousands of miles each year taking the elderly to hospital and doctor’s appointments, staying with them for the whole time for added safety and reassurance.

The role of Bridge Worker is a new and exciting partnership approach - it marks a new way of looking at combining the complex needs of health, social and community care. The idea was developed by Dartmouth Caring’s Chairman Dee Nutt and Tracey Cunningham, Modern Matron of Dartmouth Community Hospital.

Dee said: ‘Dartmouth Caring help provide the link between the health and social services and their clients – thanks to our position within the community. This is a role which brings us closer to our partners in the health and social services, and helps them get care to their clients more quickly and effectively.’

Tracey said: ‘We are really pleased to be involved in this scheme and are working closely with Dartmouth Caring. We know patients want to return home from hospital as soon as possible and this will happen for many of them thanks to the new bridge workers.’

The Bridge Workers are based at Dartmouth Community Hospital but spend most of their time out in the community. They aim to continue Dartmouth Caring’s policy of a ‘friendly face’ whilst following the professional principles of the NHS. They take referrals from local GPs, medical and social services and Dartmouth Caring. Also, when vulnerable or elderly adults from the Dartmouth community are discharged from a hospital stay the Bridge Worker also will have a two week ‘focus period’ in which they will visit regularly and make sure that all is going well and ‘signposting’ from then on.

Rita Mann and Jackie Mclean started on a job share in the role, which his running for a two year pilot, at the beginning of July, which is running for a two year pilot – and will be strictly evaluated for effectiveness. Both have experience working in the wards of Dartmouth Community Hospital and have already forged links with many of the area’s important health, social care and volunteer organisation contacts. It is already becoming clear this kind of role increases the chance of early-intervention with conditions which see many elderly people admitted and often re-admitted to hospital.

Rita said: ‘We have already seen the need for this role in our first few weeks. We now have strong links to the community through Dartmouth Caring and the experience of the NHS behind us to help people get better in their own homes. We are here to signpost the clients’ needs to the relevant people. This is a great role which will continue to develop with Dartmouth Caring and the NHS working together for the good of their community. This will make a huge difference for local people.’

Jackie said: ‘It is a busy and very rewarding role! We are out and about getting to people in their homes and helping them to get the right care. The role helps support the demands of community nurse. Dartmouth Caring’s staff and volunteers have been signposting to the NHS and Social Services for years and will continue to do so, but it shows how much good they have done. They now have us to help signpost potentially more critical patient’s before they have to go into hospital. We are on the front line and can help patients get care quicker.’

The other key factor is the role means more care can be provided in the home itself – and clinical studies have shown repeatedly that, with the right support, people get better quicker when they are in their own home.

Tracey said: ‘As a preventative role I think the bridge worker can make a huge difference. We are pleased to be working very closely with not only Dartmouth Caring but also our local GP surgery to help continue to develop this role. The Bridge Worker role is still in its early stages – we will be holding a detailed evaluation of it and will be looking to continuously develop it to make sure it continues to help as many client groups as possible.’

Dee said: ‘This is good for the people needing care, for the health and social services and for the taxpayer. It is a win, win, win, win situation. I’m delighted that we have been able to pioneer this revolutionary role.’

The Bridge Worker role is the latest initiative in which Dartmouth Caring are involved which aims to enhance communication between health and social care agencies and help patients get the right care and support in times of need. The charity also launched its Health and Social Care Directory, which for the first time lists all the relevant contacts for health and social care, along with retirement and care homes details, support groups for those with long term and debilitating illness. It was designed to help everyone both professional and members of the public, is already seen as a vital tool by GPS and social workers, and is completely funded by donations, costing the taxpayer nothing.
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