Mills And Reeve. Victoria Hughes Barker

Health and social care: can integrated retirement communities rewind the clock?

While attending the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) conference at the start of November we were fortunate enough to be addressed by the newly appointed Minister of State for Care and Mental Health, Gillian Keegan MP, writes Victoria Hughes-Barker.

During a refreshing, interesting and open address the Minister confirmed a white paper is due before the end of the year, and she indicated that private investment needs to be made more attractive.  She ended by suggesting that we are at a pivotal time in the development and reform of our health and social care system and, like the environment,  perhaps we are at our own “minute to midnight” moment.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the strengths and the flaws in our older people social care system. These are well documented, and I am sure that to those familiar with the industry I don’t need to repeat them.

The opening address of the ARCO conference shared findings of a RE-COV research project looking at the response of (the new term) integrated retirement communities during the pandemic, showing IRCs have dealt with Covid-19 in a safer way than other, comparable facilities.

The whole premise of IRCs is to enable people to live independent, healthier and more sociable lives for longer in a supported holistic environment. It has been proven that residents in IRC require less interaction and support from the NHS – from GP visits to hospital admissions – and they are likely to be admitted into residential or nursing care homes earlier in their life by the provision of optional on-site care.

As trailed in the conference and as set out in ARCO’s most recent report, Putting the ‘care’ in Housing-with-Care, there is £5.6bn in possible savings for the health and social care system if just 250,000 over-65s lived in an IRC by 2030. So why aren’t these schemes being green-lit everywhere?

The answer is many faceted and complex (as always) but one thing is clear: if we are to turn back the time on our midnight countdown, we need the government to intercede to make obtaining (through a change in planning), building (through government initiatives) and marketing (through regulation and confidence building) IRCs easier, quicker and simpler.

If they don’t then the midnight bell will toll on the Cinderella sector and the government could be left holding the pumpkin.

Find out more about the future of Later Living and the real estate sector with our interactive ‘Mapping the FutuRE’.

Victoria Hughes-Barker is senior associate at Mills & Reeve

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