The Health and Social Care Bill returns to Parliament this week. MPs will have their last chance to debate the Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday during the Bill’s Report Stage and Third Reading before it is sent for scrutiny in the House of Lords.
Despite the changes the Government made to the legislation after the public consultation earlier this year, the Bill remains controversial with some groups of medical professionals and the Labour Party accusing the Government of privatisation and further fragmentation of the NHS.
The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to rise by 65% in the next 25 years to almost 16.4 million. The population is also living longer with the number of people aged over 85 expected to treble within 30 years. As life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of more years spent in ill health, with women aged 65 having on average 8.7 years and men 7.7 years of poor health at the end of their lives. And yet, too many older people in the UK experience poor practice and ageist attitudes when it comes to care which can put their health at risk. Age UK is therefore supportive of the Bill’s aims to bring decision making about treatment and services closer to patients, and to better involve patients in decisions about their care. We agree with the Bill’s central principle which calls for ‘no decision about me, without me.’ However, we are continuing to lobby the Government for improvements to the Bill to ensure the NHS is able to meet the needs of our growing ageing population.
We are asking the new NHS commissioning board to instigate a fundamental review of how the NHS and local authorities assess, prioritise and commission services to meet the needs of an ageing population to make sure NHS structures, particularly the new commissioning bodies understand and know how to meet the needs of older people across the UK. Older people often struggle to access the basic care they need as the NHS continues to under-commission essential preventative services such as falls prevention, continence care and audiology. These types of services make a huge contribution to keeping older people well, independent in their own homes and helping to maintain a decent quality of life.
There is clear evidence that it is never too late to improve health and well-being if people are given the right access to information, support and services. We are also calling for changes to the Bill to improve the regulation of care homes to try and prevent a repeat of the recent crisis which saw the collapse of the Southern Cross network of care homes.