This week the PM, Deputy PM and Health Secretary were in ‘listening mode’ as they invited a number of voluntary organisations into Number 10 as part of the Coalition’s consultation exercise on health reforms. What the Coalition’s unprecedented ‘pause’ in proceedings during the Health and Social Care Bill will mean in practice is yet to be seen. But it’s clear that, while many agree with the Government’s overall vision for healthcare, serious concerns have arisen about the strategy being articulated by the Government and the individual provisions within the Bill.
Reform of the NHS is a make-or-break issue for the Coalition. Liberal Democrat Ministers are keenly aware of the potential for this issue to divide their party. One key player is Norman Lamb MP, the Lib Dems’ former health spokesman. In his current role as Chief Political and Parliamentary Adviser to Nick Clegg, Norman Lamb will be helping the Deputy PM stay in tune with what party activists and individual MPs are saying about the reforms. This week I have written to Norman Lamb outlining Age UK’s views on the Health and Social Care Bill.
NHS reforms will undoubtedly impact on pretty much all of us – but to differing degrees. They are likely to be most keenly felt by older people, who represent the largest cohort of patients in the NHS. It makes sense that if you get the NHS right for older people, you get it right for everyone. Take the Government’s vision for developing a clear focus on health outcomes, both in terms of treatment and patient experience. It’s shocking that the UK lags behind other EU countries in the successful treatment of cancer, stroke and heart disease for older people. We clearly need to tackle that head on – and it is right for outcomes to be at the forefront of the Government’s agenda. Similarly the increased emphasis on public health and prevention is welcome. People in later life tell us it’s the practical preventative measures, like proper foot-care services, or help with preventing falls (which organisations like Age UK are often commissioned to deliver) which make the real difference. They also, in the long term, save the NHS a fortune. Yet we know that older people often don’t have access to such basic care and the NHS continues to under commission essential community and prevention services. This results, quite simply, in service gaps for many older people. For instance, nearly 400,000 older people living in care homes face real difficulty accessing GP and primary care services.
So the vision is correct – but it starkly contrasts with what is actually happening – health outcomes are lagging, commissioning is failing to reflect the reality of the NHS’s largest patient group and health professionals still exhibit ageist attitudes. The Government has a huge task on its hands to make a real change in the way that the NHS views and treats older people. It is crucial the execution of this vision enables this, and doesn’t put more older people at risk of losing out on life-changing, and often, life-saving services.