Citizens need to know where to find support

Information about sources of support available within our communities can be difficult to find. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Information about sources of support available within our communities can be difficult to find. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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An easily-available index of local resources can be a crucial asset to living well in the community, says Jane Ankori

Sir Harry Burns, former chief medical officer for Scotland, recently addressed international delegates at the “Community is the Answer” conference in Glasgow.

Referencing Aaron Antonovsky’s “Salutogenic” approach, which focuses on factors that support health and well-being as opposed to those that cause disease, he explored the relationship between community and well-being, asking the key question: what helps us live and remain well despite adversity?

Research on resilience has highlighted a sense of belonging to community as a protective factor for well-being, and with approximately 40 per cent of the Scottish population living with one or more long-term condition, it has never been more important to explore what our communities have to offer.

The report on the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services and the Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision emphasise the need for sectors to work together to prioritise preventative approaches: including empowering citizens to become active agents in their own health and well-being. Key to this, the Christie report states, is working with individuals and communities and across the third, public and private sectors to identify and maximise resources.

Yet crucially, information about sources of support available within our communities is difficult to find. Despite a plethora of online directories, information about more local and informal resources is often available only on paper or by word of mouth.

Information that is available to the public online is often duplicated and time-consuming to navigate, if indeed we know where to look, if we have access to the internet and if we have the skills to use it. The traditional model of the third, public and private sectors centrally maintaining information about local assets has proved challenging to sustain.

Without the knowledge of what local support is available, citizens are unable to benefit from it.

A welcome development in June was the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Well-being, Alex Neil MSP, that proposals will be brought forward to ensure the citizen’s voice is the driving force within heath and social care.

Over the last few years, a key component of the work of the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) has been to ensure the voice of people who are disabled, living with long-term conditions and their unpaid carers is not only heard but is instrumental in service design and delivery.

Exemplifying this has been the approach taken to the problem of making information about local sources of support within our communities more findable.

In workshops held across Scotland during 2010, people with long-term conditions gathered with health, social care, information and community professionals to define what type of resources help keep them well; to consider the barriers to accessing these sources of support, and to develop solutions to overcome these barriers.

It was suggested that a different approach to collecting and sharing information about local sources of support was needed; moving away from a centralised, service-led model to one which allows communities to identify, collect, maintain and share information about their own assets.

The learning from these workshops became the blueprint for “A Local Information System for Scotland” (ALISS), a collaboratively maintained index of community assets.

The supporting technology was developed with people living with long-term conditions, health, social care and information professionals and others in pilots in local GP practices and libraries trialling the approach to gather, share and signpost others to sources of support.

Most recently, ALISS has been adopted by the Scottish Government-funded Links Worker Programme, which aims to explore how general practice teams can support people to live well in their communities by signposting to local resources, and an innovative Health Foundation-funded project led by Glasgow Royal Infirmary Intensive Care Unit, which seeks to improve outcomes for patients and their families.

ALISS continues to evolve under the direction of the Heath and Social Care Alliance Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Government, and key to its success will be adoption by the communities it serves.

Sadly, the pioneer of the ALISS technology, Derek Hoy, passed away in November 2012. A fiddle player and talented software developer, he aimed to design a simple, free and useful tool for communities. With his vision for ALISS beginning to be realised, it will play an important role in fulfilling the aspirations of the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services and the Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision – leaving a lasting legacy for the people of Scotland.

• Jane Ankori is ALISS programme director at the Heath and Social Care Alliance Scotland.


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