Indexed on: 16 Nov '12Published on: 16 Nov '12Published in: BMC Geriatrics
Older people living in care homes in England have complex health needs due to a range of medical conditions, mental health needs and frailty. Despite an increasing policy expectation that professionals should operate in an integrated way across organisational boundaries, there is a lack of understanding between care homes and the National Health Service (NHS) about how the two sectors should work together, meaning that residents can experience a poor "fit" between their needs, and services they can access. This paper describes a survey to establish the current extent of integrated working that exists between care homes and primary and community health and social services.A self-completion, online questionnaire was designed by the research team. Items on the different dimensions of integration (funding, administrative, organisational, service delivery, clinical care) were included. The survey was sent to a random sample of residential care homes with more than 25 beds (n = 621) in England in 2009. Responses were analysed using quantitative and qualitative methods.The survey achieved an overall response rate of 15.8%. Most care homes (78.7%) worked with more than one general practice. Respondents indicated that a mean of 14.1 professionals/ services (other than GPs) had visited the care homes in the last six months (SD 5.11, median 14); a mean of .39 (SD.163) professionals/services per bed. The most frequent services visiting were district nursing, chiropody and community psychiatric nurses. Many (60%) managers considered that they worked with the NHS in an integrated way, including sharing documents, engaging in integrated care planning and joint learning and training. However, some care home managers cited working practices dictated by NHS methods of service delivery and priorities for care, rather than those of the care home or residents, a lack of willingness by NHS professionals to share information, and low levels of respect for the experience and knowledge of care home staff.Care homes are a hub for a wide range of NHS activity, but this is ad hoc with no recognised way to support working together. Integration between care homes and local health services is only really evident at the level of individual working relationships and reflects patterns of collaborative working rather than integration. More integrated working between care homes and primary health services has the potential to improve quality of care in a cost-effective manner, but strategic decisions to create more formal arrangements are required to bring this about. Commissioners of services for older people need to capitalise on good working relationships and address idiosyncratic patterns of provision to care homes.The low response rate is indicative of the difficulty of undertaking research in care homes.