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Often wrongly seen as merely providers of adaptive equipment, occupational therapists have a key role to play in the future of social care for vulnerable people.

There are currently over 38,000 occupational therapists registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. Around 40% of occupational therapists work in social services and respond to 40% of local authority referrals. However, they make up just 2% of the social care workforce.

Several studies have shown that making the most of the skills of occupational therapists can not only improve social care services, but also reduce pressure on the health services and save money. It's a concept that's at the heart of the Government's strategy of health and social care integration and is particularly relevant in the context of our ageing population.

In 2013 a critical literature review published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy concluded that 'occupational therapy in social care is perceived as effective in improving quality of life for older people and their carers and cost effective in making savings for other social and healthcare services'.

A fall at home that leads to a hip fracture costs the NHS on average well over £28,000. That's over 100 times the cost of installing hand and grab rails in the person's home. Helping an elderly person avoid going into residential care for just one extra year can save another £28,000. Occupational therapists can also help reduce hospital admissions and delayed transfers of care.

So, how can occupational therapists be successfully deployed within multi-disciplinary social care teams to provide support for vulnerable people? The answer is to leverage their unique skills and evolve their role. As well as carrying out assessments and suggesting adaptive equipment, occupational therapists can be highly effective in reablement and rehabilitation, end of life care and safeguarding. In addition, some local authorities are 'thinking outside the box' and placing them in other areas such as housing. For example, as part of its Welsh Government-led 'Supporting People' programme, Denbighshire County Council has occupational therapists working as part of a multi-disciplinary team to provide housing-related support to vulnerable people, including helping to improve independent living skills and community integration for those with learning disabilities.

"Occupational therapists evaluate a person's home environment, examining the challenges it presents and suggesting how they might be overcome," commented Julia Scott, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) in an interview with The Guardian in 2017. "We assess for care and support packages and home adaptations, and provide rehabilitation and reablement. We work to build self-reliance, rather than dependence on services."
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