As I continue my dissertation research, I will be continuing this series of blogs on co-production to discuss my findings. Following on from my previous post, ‘What is Co-Production?’, this entry is all about the opportunities that co-production presents to the healthcare sector. My literature review revealed some interesting points which are particularly relevant to elderly care and Living Well. Firstly, a lot of research has found co-production to improve the quality and efficiency of services. More specifically, though, there are studies to suggest that co-production is better able to deal with recent challenges in the area of healthcare, as well as being really beneficial for vulnerable groups.
This increase in quality and efficiency is largely down to the recognition of individuals’ voices and knowledge. This means that services can be much better tailored to each person. Whilst the user is encouraged to participate in the production of services, and their individual experiences, thoughts and knowledge are taken into account, they are not the only ones who participate in co-production. The unique, valuable experience of frontline professionals is also acknowledged, therefore frontline staff have more freedom to act as they believe to be most beneficial in each different circumstance. This overall contribution of previously unrecognised knowledge has been found to lead to better quality services than in the traditional context of more rigid, ‘one-size-fits-all’ service delivery.
Whilst the 19th century population suffered with infectious disease, we now face problems associated more with lifestyle and chronic disease. As well as this, life expectancy has increased so there are more and more elderly people relying heavily on social and health care services. The sustainability of this is a key issue; the NHS and government-provided health and social care services are lacking resources and funding. But, the increased quality of healthcare provision achieved through co-production provides a more sustainable option, not just economically but socially, too. Due to the complex, social causes of these issues, we must approach them with solutions that are equally socially oriented, as opposed to treating medical complaints as mere physical abnormalities. Co-production is more likely to delve into, recognise, and holistically address the wider needs of patients, and therefore provides one solution to new healthcare problems.
Closely related to this, is the opportunity for co-production to improve the efficiency of services for more vulnerable members of society. Under conventional forms of healthcare delivery, citizens become reliant on doctors and other healthcare professionals. Health and social care are treated as two separate realms. Medical treatment could almost be seen as superficial, as their social needs may be overlooked. They are likely to return for medical help again and again. But, if co-production is utilised effectively, there are likely to be increases in feelings of self-efficacy and the development of trust networks. Living Well’s focus on using volunteers and co-ordinators to reintegrate elderly members of the community who may have become lonely, isolated, or lacking in confidence, has been shown to have massive benefits. They are not just happier with greater feelings of wellbeing; they are better able to manage their conditions by themselves and/or with the help of their social networks, avoiding the need for hospital treatment and GP visits.
So, co-production in healthcare is a particularly useful method of improving services, addressing recent health challenges, and providing a service that works on a deeper, less superficial level for vulnerable groups. The value of co-production is widely visible, but it would be wrong to assume that this all happens smoothly, without encountering any obstacles. My next post, then, will address the barriers that have been identified and any methods of overcoming them.