Western Mail Profiles: Dr Carolyn Wallace, University of Glamorgan

‘Working together for the benefit of our patients’

Dr Carolyn Wallace is a principal lecturer in the Faculty of Health, Sport and Science at the University of Glamorgan.

Nursing older people has given me an opportunity to work with many different people, not only those who receive care but with carers, various professionals and agencies.

In what can often be a very complex situation, fraught with problems, anxieties and life changing decisions, my experiences as a nurse have frequently been focused on trying to help people understand the impact of their disease on their everyday lives and access professionals and services to promote their independence.

Of course, this means you need knowledge about conditions like stroke and the disabilities that can result, but you also need to know the right professionals to refer for assessment and the right processes, which lead to the right treatment or care package.

How those professionals and services are made available and the way they’re coordinated on a daily basis can make the difference about whether someone can go home from hospital, continue living at home or move to a care home.

This scenario can often be complicated by having to coordinate different professionals, such as social work, occupational therapists, district nurses and different agencies.

A person’s home can become very busy and the relief and security of being at home can quickly be overshadowed by a feeling that care is intrusive; that you no longer have control over your life or that professionals and services are just not talking to one another.

My interest in this area grew in 1999 when I had the opportunity to develop a new joint health and social care service for people going to both day hospital and day centres.

I started to question how health and social care professionals and services could work together to become more efficient. Can they work closely together when they are taught separately in university and understand little about one another’s roles; are employed by different organisations, with different financial arrangements?

I quickly realised the more complex a person’s situation, the closer professionals needed to work together, often sharing the same documentation and finding ways to make communication a continual two-way occurrence.

This is something called integration – a word so commonly used in health and social care strategies – and is an approach which attempts to streamline the delivery of services for people in an efficient and cost-effective way, proportional to the needs of the individual needing care.

For the person receiving services, it may mean less people coming to their home or simply not having to answer the same questions more than once.

For professionals and services it means thinking creatively about how we can work together, using ways in which information can be shared legally, sharing budgets, measuring what we do in the same way.

My research over the last year has given me the opportunity to work with the public sector while it develops new ways of working in the community to improve the quality of care; co-author guidelines for multi-disciplinary working in the NHS and supervising other PhD students who are exploring public sector integration.

The Welsh Crucible has expanded my knowledge about science and the opportunities for solutions which could be applied to my research.

To contact Carolyn email cwallace@glam.ac.uk.
This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on the 6th February 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.