Helplines on the Frontline

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Helplines are an important partner in delivering health and social care for vulnerable people. Helplines Partnership, with our partners Shaping Our Lives (with Disability Rights UK) and the Race Equality Foundation have launched a landmark policy paper exploring the role that helplines play in delivering health and social care support, particularly to communities that are marginalised or vulnerable. There were a number of important key findings from the report.

Helplines deliver person-centred and person-led care. A helpline call on average can last around 40 minutes. That’s 40 minutes of time to talk with someone who is giving you their whole attention and appropriate support. User needs are an extremely important component of the design of helpline services.  It is important that helpline services are delivered at the times and through the communication channel that the user is most comfortable with (such as text, voice calls or webchat). Helplines reach out effectively to vulnerable, isolated communities, offering appropriate services for their callers.

Helplines provide a trusted space, confidential services and impartial support or advice. There is credible research to suggest that people will use anonymous and confidential helplines to discuss problems that they find too challenging to raise with a loved one or healthcare professional. People can also choose where to access a helpline from, either from their home environment, or another place where they feel safe. Having the option to remain anonymous can reduce the psychological barriers that may prevent people from seeking help and can make seeking help appear less threatening. The independence of helplines is valued by callers.

Helplines are an unseen health provider and health solution. Helplines offer non-judgmental, professional support to people when they need it. They can be the first port of call before being signposted to another service, offering clinical or other intervention. They are able to focus on a ‘whole systems’ approach to care and support. Unlike some statutory services, helplines can be accessed without a diagnosis. The helpline sector supports a number of areas of public service delivery and the interventions from helpline workers help to prevent self-harm, reduce emergency admissions and support people to access services in the most appropriate way possible.

Helplines can also enable a journey towards service users accessing further help and initial contact with a helpline can give a caller the information or confidence they need to engage with mainstream services.  Helplines can also provide additional ongoing support as and when the caller chooses.  They are affordable, with 49.8% of services provided using non-geographic numbers, of which 68.6% are freephone or free-to-caller numbers.

Our work has shown that while helplines have an important role to play in supporting access to health and social care, many struggle to access investment from service commissioners to ensure that local populations get the support they need. We think that this is due to too much weight being given to long term outcome measures within funding programmes which overlook the need for accessible forms of immediate support for people who are vulnerable and who have multiple needs. We want to take this work further to share these messages with funders, and continue to look at the positive role that helplines play in supporting wider health and social care within the UK.

Download Policy Paper

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