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Occupational therapy – The NHS needs to stop reinventing the wheel and recognise what works

Julia Scott, Chief Executive of the College of Occupational Therapists calls on leaders throughout the health and care system to recognise how Occupational Therapy can help to improve lives and save the NHS and other care services money.

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Given that I lead the College of Occupational Therapists it is unlikely to come as a surprise to you that in our report “Improving Lives, Saving Money” published last week, we have found that increasing the deployment of Occupational Therapists (OTs) across the front line of the NHS would be a positive thing. However, our report is based on a yearlong exercise to precisely identify how OTs contribute in terms of definable savings and improvements to patient care.

There is a silent crisis taking place within our social care system in England. There is a £1.1 billion funding gap predicted to emerge between demand for social care services and the funding available to pay for it. This is causing backlogs in hospitals which lead to £760 million being wasted each year on people in hospital beds who have no medical need to be there. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Care say that over the last two years the number of delayed discharges from hospital which are caused by failures in a social care system buckling under pressure has increased by a whopping 90%.

But there is more to this story than balance sheets and pound signs. Behind these statistics are real patients. People who want to leave hospital and go back home. People with no medical problems who develop infections because they are in hospitals surrounded by those who are ill. The acutely sick waiting in ambulances and A&E units for beds that are occupied by people who have no need or desire to be in them.

The good news is that our report has identified ways to overcome some of these issues which both improves patient care and delivers real savings in the costs of providing it.

Across the country occupational therapists are already quietly delivering seamless, patient-centred care which cuts through the messy boundaries between NHS and Local Authority provided social care and gets people back into normal life quickly and efficiently.

Throughout our report we have identified how OTs are helping the NHS to deliver better patient care at lower cost. They are doing this by cutting stays on acute wards by 8.5 days on average, by going out with paramedics to people who have fallen at home which meant that 78% of people do not have to have an admission to hospital, and by working with people with anxiety disorders in such a way that the cost of a 12-week treatment has been cut by over £2000 per patient.

As we enter the winter, always the health and social care system’s most challenging time, what we need now is rapid and effective solutions. What we cannot afford to do is waste time reinventing the wheel. That is why we are calling on leaders throughout the health and care system to sit up and take notice of our findings and recognise that Occupational Therapy is the answer they have been searching for. Given that we have shown that OTs deliver better care at lower cost, I cannot believe that in a whole range of situations, it isn’t being given the opportunity to do so.

Download the reports at our campaign site

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