Red Cross worker Catherine sits with Arthur who she helped after he came home from hospital.

The British Red Cross is pleased to see health and social care getting the attention it deserves. There is a lot to commend in the new plans and proposals to improve services. But sometimes it’s the small things that count, as Arthur’s story shows us.

Helping Arthur home from hospital

“Of course, I’d heard about the Red Cross, but I didn’t know what they could do for me,” said Arthur.

He is not alone. A lot of people don’t know that the Red Cross offers a range of services to help people return home from hospital safely and smoothly.

Sometimes this might mean providing a wheelchair to physically help take someone home. Other times we might provide the transport to ensure a person can leave hospital in a timely and safe manner.

For 70-year-old Arthur from Bristol, we provided support in his home when he returned from hospital following major surgery.

Despite being very independent, Arthur agreed to receive some additional help during his recovery.

The stress of surgery had taken its toll. He’d lost over a stone in weight and was very frail. He lacked the motivation to eat or drink properly.

Red Cross support worker Catherine Shaw would visit Arthur regularly to help out with the small things that can make a big difference to someone’s recovery – like doing the shopping or having someone to talk to.

“Catherine has been a great help,” Arthur said.

“She visited for a couple of hours every week checking on my welfare and making sure I was having my nutrition drink. Her weekly visit was something I looked forward to as we’d always have a nice chat.

“My brother-in-law comes to visit me as often as he can. I think the visits from the Red Cross was reassuring for him too as he knew I was getting that bit of extra support.

“Apart from the practical help, it was nice to have some company other than my family. It made me feel much better.”

Seeing Arthur’s confidence grow

For Catherine, seeing the progress Arthur has made has been very pleasing.

“When I first met Arthur he was very weak but I have seen him get stronger and stronger with each visit,” she said.

“The support we provide can make a huge difference to our service users. For Arthur, he really wanted to go to his barber for a haircut so I took him along as soon as he was well enough.

“We have the time to do things like that and I think our visits help to reassure both the service user and their relatives that they aren’t alone. They know we are only a phone call away.”

Arthur remains on a long road to recovery but is making steady progress.

“I’m taking it a day at a time but each day sees me get a bit stronger,” he said.

“I’m definitely getting more adventurous and have been getting out for some walks.”

A case for simple measures

Our health and social care systems are inherently interlinked. When people lack social care, their condition can get worse and this can end up putting pressure on hospitals and the health care system.

A new report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on adult social care services in England, shows the system is overstretched. In turn, this is negatively affecting the whole system.

The government recently recognised the need for urgent funding and reform to overcome this, which the Red Cross welcomes.

We also commend some of the NHS’s plans outlined in its Five Year Forward View to address key issues such as the lack of hospital beds.

But something is still missing. Within current plans and proposals, there’s a missed opportunity to provide more simple practical measures that can support people to prevent a crisis – just like the help Arthur received.

This type of support gives people the confidence to live independently in their own homes.

It improves quality of life and can also prevent, reduce or delay the need for people to access acute, often more expensive, services, like staying in a hospital bed.

We welcome the NHS’s continuing focus on prevention. However, prevention is about much more than public health education and health checks alone.

We would like to see a greater recognition for services that help minimise the effect of disability or complex conditions. With over 15 million people already living with a long term condition in England and an ageing population, this is essential.

As the government prepares its green paper on social care, the Red Cross hopes the value of these types of lower-level, preventive services is recognised.

More needs to be done to prevent people reaching health and social care crisis – after all, prevention is better than cure.