OPINION: Thinkpiece - Joined-up care can offer love in a cold climate

As temperatures dropped last week, the need for integrated service provision to protect the vulnerable has been emphasised yet again. A hefty fall of snow has highlighted the importance of planning to ensure that older people do not fall through the gap between hospital and home care, or are not left alone in their homes facing the real danger of freezing to death.

Despite best intentions, many older people feel that the services they receive are disjointed and confusing. WRVS believes that joining up services and addressing both practical and social needs together is vital. When I did a meals on wheels run on a large estate recently, I knocked on the wrong door by mistake. After a while, a quiet voice said hello through the letter box and when the door was opened, the elderly lady told me that the meal was for next door. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you," I said. "Oh, don't worry," she smiled in return, "It's lovely to see you - you're the first person I've spoken to in days."

That is but one example of social isolation. But in this weather, human contact can save lives. When our volunteers deliver hot meals or audio tapes, they are also saying hello, providing the warmth of human contact and checking that the individual is well. Any concerns or issues are immediately reported so that appropriate action can be taken in time. But, a fortnightly visit does not replace daily contact that is a vital safety net for many people.

Good-neighbour schemes are also more important than ever in bad weather because they also offer practical help with shopping or heating, or even the mundane, but often crucial, tasks like changing a light bulb.

Let's hope that the big freeze serves as a suitable reminder that joined-up care with a human face is essential - whatever the weather - if the independence and dignity of older people in the UK is to be maintained. Mark Lever is chief executive of the WRVS

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