What is the Role of Active Participation in Health and Social Care?

June 23, 2021
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The Health and Social Care sector is made up of various organisations providing care and support to people. The needs of the individuals and the settings in which care is provided are numerous, including in hospitals, care homes, domiciliary (home care) or foster care. There are various terms used to describe those receiving care and those giving it. Here, we will broadly refer to them as the service user or individual and the care worker. 

As a Health and Social Care worker, providing high-quality, conscientious care and support should always be paramount. Doing so is what enhances the quality of life for the service user and promotes job satisfaction for those working in the industry. In this article, we will look at the meaning of active participation, its importance, and the key role it plays in person-centred care. We will also look at ways it can be supported in your work setting, and consider some of the potential barriers you may face.

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What is Active Participation in Care?

Active participation is when a person’s involvement in all aspects of their life is enabled, recognising their right to participate in activities and relationships as independently as possible. They are encouraged to be less of a passive recipient and more an active partner in their own care and support. 

Having the service user be involved in the planning and practice of their own care and support is a way of enabling them to actively participate. They should be able to discuss their preferences and make choices in how and when their care is delivered, breaking down any barriers in communication to enable this. 

There may be times when this is not possible and other stakeholders,such as family, health professionals and social workers, may need to be involved. In such cases learning about the service user from someone who knows them well may be able to provide insights into their likes and dislikes. 

Promoting an individual’s rights, choices and independence are the key principles of active participation. These principles are also the cornerstone of person-centred care, an approach which respects a person’s dignity, values, their right to choose and make decisions based on their personal needs and beliefs. 

Why is Active Participation Important?

If you were to look at your own life, you may be able to think of certain activities you do  that you view as adding purpose and meaning, and you may feel they help make you, you. Perhaps you are the chief baker amongst your family and friends and get called upon for everyone’s celebration cakes. You may attend group classes for exercise or a particular hobby, or even cherish the time you spend relaxing with a good book in the bath.

Yet for many of the service users utilising care and support services, they have usually done so because they are facing limitations in their abilities to perform all their daily tasks as easily and independently as needed. Finding solutions to enable new ways of continuing their involvement in the activities they enjoy and connecting them to their social circles is a huge factor in the importance of active participation.

When a person finds themselves in need of care or support, it can be all too easy to let someone else take the reins. In a health and social care setting, particularly when the care provided becomes routine, it can often be in the nature of the care worker to  “over” help a person, whether by trying to make life easier for the service user, or because it feels more efficient to take over a task themselves. 

If the service user has the ability to do something, they should be actively encouraged to do so. This is vitally important in promoting their confidence, independence and sense of self worth. Following the active participation approach helps prevent the individual becoming too passive. 

Viewing the service user as a ‘whole person’ underpins core care values and the person-centred approach that puts the individual as the focus. Active participation is important in building the picture of the whole person, through actively seeking their involvement in key decisions surrounding their care and support and enabling them to be an active partner.  It also highlights what support they need to remain an active participant in those relationships and activities that provide their sense of belonging and purpose. 

What are the Benefits of Active Participation?

There are both physical and mental benefits of active participation for the service user, including: 

  • Taking part in daily tasks and activities can help maintain and improve mobility.
  • Being engaged and responsible can improve mental awareness and an improved sense of self worth.
  • Allowing more opportunities for further development through learning or employment.
  • Increased independence and self confidence can lessen the scope for abuse and exploitation by others.
  • They may be less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

The care worker can also benefit from this approach to care. They may experience: 

  • A greater sense of job satisfaction.
  • Better communication and relationship between themselves and the individual. 
  • A more varied role through supporting or participating in various activities or more engaging conversation.

Barriers to Active Participation in Health and Social Care

Encouraging active participation should always be at the heart of a person-centred approach to care and support. It would however be naïve to assume that challenges will not arise at times, making it difficult to achieve. It is key to focus on the importance of this approach and work to find solutions to any problems. 

A few common barriers that can hinder someone’s ability to actively participate are:

  • Lack of time Time restraints are a particularly common barrier that can lead to an increased temptation for the care worker to take over tasks for a service user. This may be with personal care or preparing a meal. 
  • Shortage of staff – Staff shortages, whatever the cause, can have a big impact on being able to allocate sufficient time to the needs of the individual or assist with planned activities.
  • Lack of staff training – Staff may not have had sufficient training to ensure they understand the importance of active participation and ways in which they can support it.
  • Communication and sensory impairments Being able to communicate effectively with the care worker or within social settings may make participating or expressing themselves more difficult for the service user.
  • Logistical – A service user’s mobility may mean they cannot access an activity somewhere without wheelchair access or a disabled bathroom, or they may be unable to walk stairs.
  • Psychological or cognitive barriers – An individual may struggle to understand why they should participate or how to join in,  which may lead to a lack of interest altogether. 
  • Family involvement – Family members may not understand the importance of active participation and may feel their family member should not be doing things for themselves.

How Can Care Workers Support Active Participation?

There are many ways care workers can support active participation in their work setting and overcome some of the barriers they face.  Remain up to date with your training, and focus on your continued professional development to ensure you maintain up to date knowledge of the person-centred approach and of those you care for and support. You will also be better able to give well informed advice to family and friends of the service user if you find they struggle to understand why the individual has to do things for themselves. 

Get to know the service users, familiarise yourself with their wishes and any key information in their care plans that will help you support their ability to actively participate. 

When a service user’s care plan is put together, they will have been assessed by a suitably trained member of staff. This should cover their ability to perform certain tasks and highlight the level of support they require. The service user should also have actively participated in the forming of this plan and should therefore have stated their own preferences and requests. If a person has any communication requirements or sensory impairment, you should find the information there. Knowing the appropriate method of communicating can break down a very common barrier. 

Communicate effectively with your colleagues, as that pooling of information can generate a clearer picture of what is being done well and factors that could be improved upon. For example, observations made of a service user may highlight the need for a re-assessment of their care and support needs. You may note that the supported daily walk of an individual has been missed on several occasions, and sharing this information allows it to be addressed and resolved. Barriers such as short staffing and a lack of time can easily be accepted as the norm in health and social care settings. Only by observing and reporting back its direct impact on the service users can it be resolved. 

Examples of Active Participation in Health and Social Care

Some examples of how active participation may look in health and social care includes:

  • Encouraging an individual to be part of the planning of their care and support needs.
  • Helping a keen reader to “read” again with the use of audiobooks if their eyesight has hindered their ability. 
  • Observing potential barriers and utilising other resources to help, for example a physiotherapist if mobility declines, a speech therapist if they struggle to speak effectively, or a medical professional if mental health struggles are present. 
  • Alternative methods of medication or dispensers to allow them to take it independently. For example a dosette box if they struggle with bottles or blister packs, or an alarmed dispenser if they are prone to forgetting.
  • The use of symbols or pictures to aid communication and allow them to voice choices and questions.
  • Sourcing appropriate equipment if needed to facilitate more independent undertaking of tasks such as personal care or meal preparation.
  • Easy access to a telephone and contact information so they can stay connected to friends and family. Many people may need important numbers written out in larger print or programmed into their phone. 

Active participation plays an integral role in the delivery of high-quality, person-centred care. Its key principles are focussed on promoting the rights, choices and independence of the service user. It is a care worker’s duty to actively encourage and support an individual to be an active partner in their own care and support and not merely a passive recipient.

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