Why growing up in a pub has prepared me for working in integrated health and social care

By Jo Reilly, Better Care Support Team

Featured article – 11 August 2015

Photo of Jo Reilly

Disconcertingly regularly I feel horribly inexperienced. I’m a graduate trainee on the Civil Service Fast Stream and currently rotate between different government departments every six months. When I joined the Better Care Support Team five months ago, it was a steep learning curve. There was jargon. I didn’t know what a Health & Wellbeing Board was, had never heard of a Section 75 Agreement, and had no clue what DTOC stood for. I didn’t understand the relationship between Department of Health and NHS England, and wasn’t really sure of the criteria for distinguishing health care from social care.

The one thing I did know was that the integration of health and social care really matters. My parents have run a traditional local pub in Bermondsey, south London for the past 25 years. I grew up in that pub and watched the customers, many who knew me from when I was a tiny child, slowly age, and then often developing complex health issues.

Working in the pub, I’ve seen just how crucial maintaining a degree of independence is to people’s quality of life. To be able to go down to the pub for a chat with friends over a slow pint, as you may have done every week for decades, provides the community, companionship and sense of belonging that we all need. Such independence is only possible when health and social care systems interlink to provide a person-centred package of support, tailored to that particular person’s requirements, wants and values. One might think that arranging for a carer to take you to the pub for an hour every Thursday afternoon is not vital, but to the individual who gets to see their friends and share a joke just once a week, it can mean everything.

If I’m honest, before joining the Department of Health I could never have imagined how hard successful integration is, both in terms of the number of barriers and their mind-boggling complexity. But over the last few months I have been consistently impressed, and indeed amazed, by the level of commitment, ingenuity and passion shown by those working towards better integration.

I am convinced that in providing a platform to highlight learning and connect with colleagues across the country, the Better Care Exchange is an immensely valuable resource for all those interested in better, integrated care. The Better Care Exchange is a collaborative, social network for health and social care professionals. It enables networking, information and knowledge sharing on good practice for delivering better integrated care, and implementing Better Care Fund plans.

I’d like to finish this post with one last reflection. In 2012 I was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship for an MA at Harvard, and whilst there I participated in a leadership development course. Conforming to the stereotype of the emotionally repressed Brit, I was initially resistant to the idea that in order to lead one has to be willing to share one’s own vulnerabilities.  I had no intention of letting colleagues see my fears or doubts.

Yet I soon changed my mind, because I learnt that the trust involved in exposing vulnerabilities creates an incredibly powerful shared experience, which bonds people together and allows us to voice innovative suggestions we might previously have been unwilling to share. Integration is difficult, and trying to implement change involves a level of risk that can be scary. We will all benefit if we are able to honestly vocalise our thoughts, concerns, difficulties and perceived failures. The Better Care Exchange provides a safe community space for such discussions, so I’d highly recommend that you consider joining it.