Although it is perceived wisdom that joint working must be beneficial, there is, even at this stage, little evidence to support that notion. The present study is an evaluation of two integrated co-located health and social care teams which were established in a rural county to meet the needs of older people and their carers. This study does identify that patients from the 'integrated teams' may self-refer more and are assessed more quickly. This might indicate that the 'one-stop shop' approach is having an impact on the process of service delivery. The findings also suggest that, in the integrated teams, the initial stages of the process of seeking help and being assessed for a service may have improved through better communication, understanding and exchange of information amongst different professional groups. However, the degree of 'integration' seen within these co-located health and social care teams does not appear to be sufficiently well developed to have had an impact upon the clinical outcomes for the patients/service users. It appears unlikely from the available evidence that measures such as co-location go far enough to produce changes in outcomes for older people. If the Department of Health wishes to see benefits in process progress to benefits to service users, then more major structural changes will be required. The process of changing organisational structures can be enhanced where there is evidence that such changes will produce better outcomes. At present, this evidence does not exist, although the present study does suggest that benefits might be forthcoming if greater integration can be achieved. Nevertheless, until the social services and National Health Service trusts develop more efficient and compatible information systems, it will be impossible to evaluate what impact any further steps towards integration might have on older people without significant external resources.
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