Councillor fears Essex health plans amount to 'hidden cuts'
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A 'whole system approach' to support the wellbeing of Essex residents - by tapping into volunteer groups - has been branded a way to cut costs, a meeting has heard.
Essex County Council is considering options for a Countywide Community Wellbeing and Resilience Service, to tackle health inequalities such as smoking cessation, weight management and NHS health checks.
ECC has said that a key challenge for all councils has been how to address lifestyle choices that individuals make which impact on their health.
ECC says traditional models of commissioning services delivered by professionals are not able to respond to the current level of need - two-thirds of Essex residents are reportedly overweight, five percent of people report that they are 'always lonely', and 16 percent of people are 'sometimes lonely'.
Councillors heard that, with many people seeing a decline in their mental and physical health during the pandemic, the need to address wellbeing has become more acute.
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So, in addition to the specialist professional support offered where needed, and building on the 'success' of the community weight management project, a new community-based model will employ a "social movement approach that encourages local people to help other local people."
ECC has set a draft budget of £4.9 million for the scheme.
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Councillor Ivan Henderson, ECC's Labour group leader, said the scheme was proof of the way the council is intending to find efficiencies by using the volunteer sector.
At an ECC Cabinet meeting (June 22), he said: "The hidden cuts are coming our way.
"Can Councillor Spence tell us if he thinks those volunteers are aware that their services are going to be used to cover savings and cuts this council and Government have put forward over the last few years?
"I don’t think they will expect to be covering those services.
“They will expect to help and support resources not cover the gaps in resources which I think this contract is now expecting them to do.”
Councillor John Spence, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “Volunteers will only volunteer if they agree with what they are being asked to volunteer for. If one loses the volunteers, one has rather lost the benefit.
“By engaging more with communities we can persuade more people to come forward for the health check which will enable early identification of a condition which might not otherwise come to light until it’s acute.
“One measure I would be looking forward to in this is we would see far more people coming forward for their annual health check than has been the case.
“There are savings to be achieved – we believe there is a very significant saving. Because you are taking overheads away from four or five organisations and leaving them with one and many of those, the overhead to frontline spend ratio is over 20 per cent.
“If we can save that we can ensure it gets reinvested.”