Remembering that people are the experts in their own lives

Remembering that people are the experts in their own lives

Agewell (Mid and East Antrim Agewell Partnership) has had a long association with the International Foundation of Integrated Care, presenting online, taking part in webinars and attending the All-Ireland Conference last year. Our small charity organisation has always benefited from the knowledge and encouragement by our colleagues at IFIC, so it was important to us that we became involved when the International conference came to our home city, Belfast.

Since 2016, IMPACTAgewell®, our community development approach to integrated care has stood as a beacon of hope for improved patient outcomes, cost saving to the health care system, and a more holistic approach to wellness which embodies IFIC’s ideals. This year’s conference’s theme was “Taking the Leap”, an opportunity to reflect not just on the progress being made in integrated care, but also a call to action. After eight years of working to achieve integrated care, we stood beside IFIC’s key message – to see an acceleration of integrated care progress at scale. Talk is not enough.

At the heart of IMPACTAgewell® ’s approach is a deep understanding of the complex needs of the ageing population. We listen, we are hyper local, we speak to the person to their needs, and we are instrumental in creating partnerships between our healthcare partners and the community around them.

Through 2022 -2023 IMPACTAgewell® was the first demonstrator site with the £15million “Improving Adult Care Together” (IMPACT UK) centre based at the University of Ulster and on day one of the conference myself and Prof Robin Millar led a workshop looking at “Building Assets, community led approaches to integration within primary care” based on the findings of our Demonstrator report. Two of our service users Rosemary Fee and Billy Johnson were able to talk candidly about their first-hand experiences of the IMPACTAgewell® approach, creating a very powerful afternoon’s discussion.

Our Plenary session on day two “Delivering integrated care in the community and the role of general practice in integration” was chaired by myself and Prof Robin Millar and we were joined by Billy Johnson, service user, Amarjit Maxwell, THINK Hauora, Richard Lewanczuk, Alberta Health Services and Jan De Maeseneer, Ghent University.

Billy led the session with a very honest account of how he became aware through his local GP Surgery of the support a model of care like IMPACTAgewell® could provide him with. Despite Billy previously caring for his wife, he found himself surprised by the wealth of support which IMPACTAgewell® could open up to him following one simple referral from his GP.  He talked about how following the death of his daughter Leslie during COVID, he found himself completely isolated and had developed anxiety created by the covid restrictions. He had his first meeting with his IMPACTAgewell® officer Nicola in the garage of his home, for fear of COVID. Fast forward two years and this man was now sitting on the main stage of the ICC conference centre. Witnessing an audience rapt with Billy’s experience, as an older person, as a carer and most of all as a person with a unique lived experience sharing his voice at a major international conference for me was incredibly emotional and inspiring. Throughout the conference we heard key leaders of health talk about the need to listen, really listen to the people, Adam Lent from New Local told the conference in his plenary session that ‘people are experts in their own lives’, and Billy is very much testament to that statement.

The overall all atmosphere at the conference was one of immense hope and a shared vision for integrated care. It was incredible to hear from our colleagues across the world who whilst experiencing very similar issues to our own in health and social care are leading the way with inspirational projects and innovative work to overcome the pressures, we all face.

Northern Ireland is at a crossroads in its journey to integrated care. Whilst since 1973 we have integrated health and social care services structurally; people still work in silos and there is still very much a health care agenda and a social care agenda.

Over the last 18 months the foundations of the new NI Integrated Care System have started to roll out with a vision to put the needs of people at the heart of everything. The Deputy Permanent Secretary Sharon Gallagher told conference on day one that new Area Partnership Boards within the Integrated Care System will enable change in the health service and allow local outcomes-based initiatives to flourish. However, in the same session, Prof Rafa Bengoa also commented that while system leaders were tight on outcomes, they were looser on the means to achieve these outcomes and the answer to that often lay in learning from local success.

We believe that one of the clear messages form the conference is that no single statutory organisation can face challenges in health alone. Community assets are a huge untapped asset. However, key to these accessing these resources is the need for a cultural change and less battle over expertise.

Over the last eight years IMPACTAgewell® has learned from evidence and put that into practice in building our community assets and health partnerships to reach out overall goal of improving health and wellbeing outcomes for Older People in our area. We hope to see it continue to spread and scale to other areas through partnership working by the Area Partnership Boards.

We finished off our conference experience by hosting 19 of our international colleagues to our offices in Agewell on a study tour. They met our staff team and many more of our community group partners and service users. Irish stew and lots of cups of tea and cake helped us celebrate a truly fantastic IFIC Conference experience.

Sarah McLaughlin
Executive Director of Health Programmes
Mid & East Antrim Agewell Partnership