Supporting people with long-term conditions: what is the house of care?

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Person-centred integrated care is the holy grail that everyone wants, but getting there is proving challenging. Perhaps what’s needed is a clearer vision of what we’re trying to achieve and how we might get there. A new paper from The King’s Fund on the house of care aims to provide just that.

The house of care is a metaphor for a proactive co-ordinated system of care and support for people with long-term conditions. Devised to help primary care staff and commissioners reorganise local services to provide better care and support for these people, it represents a radical departure from the current focus on individual diseases towards a more generic approach in which patients’ goals drive care delivery.

Personalised care planning is at the centre of the house, the fulcrum of a co-ordinated delivery system. People with long-term conditions are encouraged to play an active part in determining their own care and support needs. In pre-arranged appointments they engage in a collaborative care planning process – identifying priorities, discussing care and support options, agreeing goals they can achieve themselves, and co-producing a single holistic care plan with their care co-ordinator (usually a GP or nurse), regardless of how many long-term conditions they have.

The house of care ought to be the centrepiece of every integrated care project, with greater attention paid to the contribution that people make towards managing their own health. Assumptions about the incapacity of individuals lead to disempowerment – undermining their self-care efforts. Health and social care professionals who do things with people rather than to them can achieve so much more. There needs to be a greater focus on this in professional training and in integrated care initiatives.

Professionals need to recognise that the personal assets that patients (and their families) bring to the care planning process are as important as the clinical information in the medical record. They must also be aware of the capacity of local community and self-help groups to provide appropriate support. The organisation of general practices should be re-oriented – from a reactive system that treats people with long-term conditions when they become ill to a proactive approach that co-ordinates care and supports people to stay well.

The need to rethink the delivery of primary care is underscored by the pressures of coping with increasing numbers of people with multiple long-term conditions and complex needs. According to the Department of Health, the number of people with three or more long-term conditions will rise from 1.9 million in 2008 to 2.9 million in 2018, requiring about £5 billion additional NHS expenditure. It makes no sense to plan and organise care around single conditions if more and more of us have more than one health problem. The current disease-focused service that leads to fragmented care for patients simply won’t be able to cope.

Shifting to this new model is not easy but the ideas are beginning to take hold across England. Some 3,000 practitioners in 26 communities have begun to introduce aspects of the house of care model via the Year of Care programme and similar initiatives. There is much enthusiasm for the approach, but still some daunting challenges that must be overcome. These challenges include a national GP contract that encourages a focus on single diseases and clinical processes, inflexible IT systems that don’t include space to record patients’ goals, a lack of agreed metrics to measure progress, and funding mechanisms that get in the way of planning care across service boundaries.

None of these problems is insurmountable though. There are already some great examples of joined-up care happening across the country at a local level, but the Department of Health and NHS England could do much to remove the barriers. This, coupled with effective local leadership from clinical commissioning groups, would go a long way towards achieving better support and better outcomes for people with long-term conditions.


Lynne Craven

Activated Patient,
The Self-management Partnership
Comment date
02 October 2013
The house of care model is great and to get there lots of training is needed on both sides. And when commissioning the foundation for the CCG it is important to have an articulate patient voice to aid with planning. Going to the doctors when you're well to plan the care you will need when you are not well…there's a thought.

I live with 3 LTC and I want a care plan please. Bring it on!

alf collins

Clinical Associate,
Health Foundation
Comment date
02 October 2013
Landmark publication and great blog Angela- thank you.

Really important that the Integration Pioneers build the House of Care. Interesting to speculate what they would do if they didn't..

Important also that we don't think that the purpose of care planning is to produce a care plan (an output). In my view, the purpose of care planning is to provide people who live with long term conditions personalised support to help them develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their own health and healthcare (an outcome).

Nicola Buckley

Nursing Manager,
Consultus Care and Nursing Ltd
Comment date
03 October 2013
I really hope that the House of Care model is widely implemented. It is so important that people suffering from chronic illnesses maintain control of how and where they are cared for, when they are losing control in so many other areas. We are privileged to be able to provide nurses, who by moving in with the patient for a predetermined period,enable individuals to remain in their own homes, in order that they and their families continue to enjoy a fully supported life together.

Sian Finn

Comment date
04 October 2013
With the new emphasis on comorbidities and multi-morbidities in integrated care I think it is time to give more thought to defining comorbidity in relation to this agenda and importantly the patient’s perspective on comorbidity. How does having comorbidities impact on people’s self- management? Concepts such as an index condition, concordant and discordant comorbidities are worth further exploration, looking at how the type and severity of comorbidities affect people, not just the number of conditions they have. The issues around symptomatic versus asymptomatic conditions with regard to self- management is one example.
On a different tangent an approach that moves away from single conditions also has potential implications for the charity sector where most are focussed on single disease conditions.

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