Elderly will reap the benefits of partnership working

NHS England’s Project Delivery Manager for Older People recently joined Age UK on a short-term secondment working with their health policy programme. Here she writes about her experiences of producing two editions of a ‘Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing’.

Being able to stay healthy in later life is a crucial issue for all of us.

We know that older people often do not feel supported to look after their own health, particularly people with multiple long term conditions, including frailty. This has a detrimental impact on their quality of life and health outcomes.

NHS England recognised there were lots of very good detailed individual guides to support older people look after their health, but there wasn’t always a single place for people to go.  Improving older people’s care is increasingly a priority for the NHS, so my team set out to produce such a guide, working with the National Clinical Director for Frailty and Age UK.

We want a readable and practical guide that helped people to stay physically and mentally well by providing hints and tips on how to keep fit and independent. It recognised, as we all should, that there is always something we can do to improve our health and wellbeing. For older people who may be starting to find things more difficult to do, it is particularly important to take active steps to slow down or reverse some of the health challenges we are all likely to face.

The guide is underpinned by good evidence about some of the issues that could affect your health and wellbeing. The topics are based on the principle risk factors for older people living at home, such as looking after your feet, making your home safe and medicine reviews. By targeting these risk factors, the guide can contribute to supporting people to stay well for longer, particularly over the winter period, and improve the quality of life of people and their carers.

Good mental wellbeing is important for all of us; the guide suggests some things we can do to help or improve our mental wellbeing such as beginning a conversation, helping others, inviting friends for tea and learning to love computers.

Putting the original guide together was a fascinating and humbling experience of genuine co-production between NHS England, Age UK and older people. For example, focus groups and in-depth interviews with older people helped us to understand how best to communicate these ideas. The contents and style of the guide reflects the feedback from these focus groups.

I was captivated by follow up sessions after initial focus groups which revealed that the people involved had all spent time thinking about the guide since we had last spoke to them, some had made a few changes to their lifestyle and some had referred back to it to try something new. Many of them had told friends and family about the guide and were excited to share what they had learnt.

Since January 2015 over 185,000 copies have been ordered by individuals, charities, GPs, pharmacies, social care and many more, being used to support older people to live well and independently.  More recently the guide is frequently ordered by local Fire and Rescue Services to support ‘safe and well’ visits with older people in their homes. We’re also working with Age UK, Carers UK and Carers Trust to jointly develop a companion guide which will help support the one million carers over the age of 65 in England.

On 1 October 2015 NHS England and Age UK published the second edition of a Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing’. We have worked with older people to refine and improve the new version.

With the support of experts and partnership organisations such as Public Health England and the Chief Fire Officer’s Association, we have also added two new sections to the guide aimed at looking after your brain and oral health, whilst improving the information on making your home safe and looking after your mental health.

Feedback has been extremely positive from members of the public as well as organisations, with some areas wanting to create locally tailored companion guides to complement it and other areas planning to incorporate and evaluate the guide as part of the care they are providing for people.

I am very confident the refined guide will be just as successful if not even more so as the original. I look forward to the next steps with the guide, especially as I am for the next three months at least working as part of the Age UK team.

I am sure we will really reap the benefits of genuine partnership working.

Katie Walkin

Katie Walkin joined NHS England in April 2014 and is currently a Project Delivery Manager in the Long Term Conditions (children and adults) Unit, working to improve the quality of life and end of life care for people with long term conditions and their carers.

She is taking a lead on healthy ageing and fire health projects. Katie has led on co-producing NHS England’s ‘A practical guide to healthy ageing’ and has been a part of the long term conditions engagement strategy.

The first six years of her working life began in McDonalds where she ran a £1.7 million per annum restaurant for the company.

Katie has a degree in Psychology and a Post Graduate Certificate in Mental Health Law.

She started her NHS career in a Mental Health Trust and worked for four and a half years as a Mental Health Act Manager, having the responsibility for the execution of all duties and acts carried out by the Trust in relation to the Mental Health Act (1983), including ensuring that the grounds for detaining patients were valid and legal in protecting patient rights.