The Royal College of Occupational Therapist’s new publication, Living Not Existing – putting prevention at the heart of care for older people, is not the equivalent of rocket science. Indeed much of its content is common sense, who wouldn’t support a preventative approach, supporting people to remain in their communities and the notion that everyone has a right to obtain help from an Occupational therapist?

But at the heart of this concise and straightforward document is something somewhat more radical. Rather than demand more resources, we assert that in order to deliver on the three objectives listed above, we simply need to use the Occupational therapy workforce differently.  

Traditionally Social Care based Occupational Therapists have held caseloads of local residents with complex diagnoses and co –morbidities. Considering they make up 2% of the social care workforce but deal with 40-45% of referrals (DH 2008), they have made a pretty good job of it.

But while there is still a need for this service offer, now is the time to get “upstream” of demand and use Occupational therapists (the only health care profession educated to work across health and social care, and in the fields of mental and physical health) to deliver population based interventions, available to all, not just those we currently serve. The new offer should focus on keeping people out of hospital (working with GPs in Multi-disciplinary teams) and located within their communities (working with local authority housing and planning colleagues and community based health services).

The pressures of increasing demand have led to all services being squeezed. This has inevitably led to a reductionist approach where we only deal with people’s most vital needs but are unable to offer interventions that really deliver quality of life, enable people to maintain the own health and wellbeing, and remain active participants in their local communities- something we would all want for ourselves as we grow older.

So now is the time to think differently, and to get services in place that enable all citizens to have a better life, to lead an active live rather than a tedious existence. Of course, the challenge will be to get upstream and reposition Occupational therapy services whilst still supporting those in need right now. We firmly believe it not only can be done, but also that it must be done. Should you wish to find out more, please visit our website download the report and watch the short film that portrays the difference Occupational therapists can make, if they are given the opportunity; and then go and speak to your Occupational therapists and work with them to plan a better future for us all.