This week’s blog from our General Election Series focuses on the importance of having access to quality health and care services for all of us as we age.
We are living in an increasingly ageing society. There are 11 million people aged 65 or over in the UK, 3 million of whom are aged 80 or over. The number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30. This is by any measure a triumph to be celebrated.
However we are far from being prepared for all the consequences of our longer lives. The social care system is a case in point. Care services are being cut – between 2005/6 and 2013/14 the proportion of people aged 65+ receiving care fell from 15.3% to 9.1%. This means over 380,000 fewer people receiving care than a decade ago. The number of people receiving home care has fallen by over 30%. Preventative services like day care and meals on wheels have been cut by over 60%.
This is at the same time as the number of people over 65 has grown by well over a million and those aged 85 and over, the fastest growing age group and those most likely to live with multiple long term conditions, including dementia, are most likely to need care.
Further cuts are expected during the next parliament, and the Association of Directors of Social Services estimates that an additional £4.3 billion will need to be found by 2020 just to keep services at current levels. Age UK estimates that 900,000 people over 65 in need of social care are already struggling without desperately needed support. And our research published today reveals the ‘double whammy’ of cuts to both health and social care services that support older people in the community.
Whilst the arguments to increase funding to the NHS have had a high political and media profile, without the requisite increase in funding for social care, we will continue to see increased demand for expensive hospital care as people are unable to manage at home. All to often we see that hospitals are unable to discharge older patients because there isn’t the support they need at home or in care homes to allow them to leave, contributing to the costs and pressures on the health service.
There may be ways to limit our future needs for health and care services. If the older population was supported to be in better health, if our housing stock was better suited to the needs of older people who have disabilities, if transport was more accessible, if supportive communities resulted in fewer isolated older people, if ‘telecare’ technologies were used more to monitor people’s health and wellbeing; these could all play a part in reducing and delaying the need for people to use services.
All the major political parties put great store in discussing ‘integration’ as a way to make the system more efficient, but we would like to see the next Government genuinely committing to more health and care services which are joined up around the individual. Age UK itself is developing a national integrated care programme which brings together health, care and volunteer services which has been shown to reduce hospital admissions.
Underpinning Age UK’s manifesto calls on health and care is the belief that people must be supported to have a decent quality of life and to be part of society, treated fully as a person not a set of symptoms and support needs.
On 7 May 2015, we will all vote to choose our future MPs and the next UK Government. It’s vital that once elected our politicians act on the issues that affect older people, today and tomorrow. Ask your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to become Age Champions