Developing a new generation of integrated health and social care professionals

As Scotland’s local authorities tussle with the task of integrating health and social care services to meet the government’s 2020 Vision, a unique new partnership between a respite centre and a Scottish university is set to help develop a new generation of integrated health and social care professionals. Mairi O’Keefe, Chief Executive of Leuchie House explains.

Over the five years since Leuchie House was set up as an independent charity providing respite breaks for people with MS, Parkinson’s and other long term conditions, we have focused on being a learning organisation, with a vision to be a centre for excellence in respite care. So having Queen Margaret University on our doorstep, renowned for teaching and research in the health sciences, it was inevitable that joint-working would be on the cards.

What we probably didn’t appreciate in the early days was just how extensive this relationship could become and the potential it had to help achieve Scotland’s vision for an integrated health and social care workforce. With a formal partnership agreement between Leuchie and QMU due to be unveiled next month by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney, we now have a raft of experience to build upon and an ambitious programme planned which fits directly with national developments.

Back in 2012, we took our first steps towards working together by offering placements to students on QMU’s MSc in Physiotherapy. Over the past five years, this flow of students has become an important element of our in-house physio service and has helped pave the way for many other areas of joint working.

We now offer three six-week placements each year to two postgraduate physio students, with plans to offer up to six more placements to BSc students too.

For the students, on a practical level it offers a clinical opportunity to work with people with long term neurological conditions – something they wouldn’t get a chance to do in a conventional hospital setting. It also gives them hands-on experience of manual handling and a chance to put their theoretical studies in to daily practice.  Working with our guests on a daily basis over the duration of their 11-day holiday brings their inter-personal and communications skills to the fore, and through our assessment and referrals process, allows them to experience multi-disciplinary working in action.

For Leuchie House, working with these students keeps us in tune with the latest practice and helps us to continually reflect on the way we do things to ensure we are offering the best possible service to our guests.

Our integrated internal model brings together Leuchie’s physio service with our nursing, care and other therapy services to provide an all-encompassing person-centred approach.  This means that the way we work with QMU’s physiotherapy students has a clear application to all the other aspects of our service too.  For example QMU’s new MSc in Person-Centred Practice offers an obvious platform for impactful knowledge exchange. The possibility of a new programme focused on nurse-led care opens up exciting new opportunities not just for Leuchie but across Scotland’s health and social care sector.  And with access to QMU’s wider therapy-based care provision including music and art therapy, we will soon be able to add a very welcome extra dimension to our guest activity programme and our focus on guest wellbeing.

The new partnership has also opened up exciting opportunities for innovative research projects, which have the potential to help develop creative solutions to the integration of health and social care. 

There is little doubt that the development of integrated and streamlined services for people with long term conditions is a high priority on the agenda in Scotland and internationally.  Media profiles of the strain on social services in providing continuing care services to people with long term conditions are commonplace these days.  Understanding how services such as those provided by Leuchie House can best be expanded and extended across health and social care systems is vital for the development of integrated services.  Sometimes the solutions to such integration are not just about restructuring or reorganising services, but instead can lie in understanding the patterns of practice and how to adjust these in order to maximise individual wellbeing and overall health status. 

One such example of this approach is our first joint research project, in conjunction with the nursing team at QMU, is beginning to explore what individualised support is available to people living with long term conditions and their carers. Funded by the Scottish Funding Council as part of its Innovation Voucher Scheme and led by Nurse Lecturer Helen Riddell, this has focused on Leuchie’s intensive assessment service – known as the Leuchie MOT - and its possible application as a new model of outreach support. A second phase of this project is currently being developed.

Also on the cards for 2017 is a new research project examining the health economics of respite breaks and their role in providing anticipatory and preventative care, reducing the need for acute admissions.

Even on an indirect level, the partnership offers a host of opportunities to share learning and practice.  As a centre for short respite breaks, in many ways Leuchie operates like a country house hotel. As well as our nursing and care staff, we have a staff team involved in promoting our accommodation, handling guest bookings, and delivering personalised holidays. This offers synergy with QMU’s wider curriculum, across events management, hospitality, catering, business, marketing and more.

As a partnership based on a shared commitment to social justice, equality, innovation and enterprise, such a rich and varied programme of joint activity offers so many opportunities for the sharing of knowledge and evidence.  It positively contributes to national developments in integrated health and social care, anticipatory care, and person-centred care. And will have a direct impact on ensuring Scotland’s new generations of nurses and allied health professionals will enter the workforce imbued with the principles and practical applications of delivering an integrated service.

That can only be a win-win for Scotland’s health and social care service and everyone who needs to use it.

By Mairi O'Keefe, Chief Executive, Leuchie House. Published in The Scotsman, 9 March 2017.