Friday, 5 September 2014

A visit from the Older People’s Commissioner Office

Earlier this summer Kate Hughes, who works as the Engagement Coordinator for the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, visited some of my colleagues (including Freda Lacey) at PAVO to find out more about our work. She later wrote a blog post about her visit for the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales’ website and with her permission we republish it here. In the post Kate highlights “some of the excellent work underway in Powys that is making a big difference to people’s lives.”

I visited Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) in Llandrindod Wells to spend the day with Freda Lacey, PAVO’s Mental Health Participation and Involvement Officer, and Barbara Perkins, their Community Voice Officer. They were keen to tell me about some of the outstanding work going on across Powys, supported by PAVO, which helps organisations and improves lives.

Powys is the largest county in Wales, covering a quarter of its land mass, but it is also the least sparsely populated with an average of 26 people per square kilometre. The result is a beautiful rural landscape with soaring mountains and acres of wilderness to explore. There are several population centres, including Newtown, Welshpool, Llandrindod Wells and Hay-on-Wye, but many people live in remote areas that are hard to reach. The result is a patchwork of services that cover the county and a real postcode lottery about what is available to you based on where you live. The Commissioner often talks about people being in the ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky box’ and where you live in Powys and whether you have easy access to transport, can be critical factors in determining which box you are in.

The importance of being able to access transport is highlighted by the fact that there are no District General Hospitals in Powys, so people often have to travel long distances and across borders for diagnosis and treatment. They also told me that older people whose spouses or partners are very ill in hospital often struggle to make the journey to Birmingham or Wrexham and that there have been reports of discharge in the very early hours and a lack of discharge planning.

Rural isolation is also a huge challenge as people often live at some distance from friends, family and community services. There have been projects set up to tackle this and to help support people’s mental health and wellbeing. Freda and Barbara had time to tell me about some of their favourites:

This project helps people to do their shopping. Volunteers phone up to find out the items people need and let them know about special offers etc. They will then shop locally, deliver and unpack the items people have ordered.

This is a wide-ranging service that has really helped service users to get involved in designing and delivering mental health services.

They bring services/(senior managers) and service users/carers together in local communities so they can discuss and resolve any problems, if possible, locally. This is a great example of using patient experience, rather than complaints, to drive improvement.

This service focuses on people over 50 who are lonely, isolated and risk losing independence.  Volunteers work with people for up to a year and support them to become more involved in their communities. Once volunteers have been matched, they help people to identify groups and activities they want to try and support them to try out them out. They try to help people find social activities they can continue to enjoy long after their involvement has ended. This project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and is running until October 2016.

There are a range of initiatives to help Powys become a more supportive place for people with dementia to live. Hay-on-Wye/Brecon  is trailblazing the way to implement Dementia Friendly Communities in Wales.  The aim is to help people and organisations in local areas to better support people with dementia. An example of some of the initiatives linked would be the Butterfly Scheme, which provides training in dementia care within hospitals and is based on the “Reach” programme.

Many thanks to Freda and Barbara for a fascinating day. I have just skimmed the surface of Powys in this blog, but I was struck by the range of innovative solutions people in Powys have found to providing services in such a challenging landscape. I would like to end with a final thought from the Commissioner, “"When we get it wrong, the price is never paid by the service, it's paid by the individual and is far too high".

The situation in Powys may be challenging, but it is heartening to see that so many people are trying to get it right.

Tell us what you think in the comments box below about some of the issues that Kate has raised in her blog post.

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