The survival of the NHS depends on prioritising care of the elderly
However unpalatable the truth, there is no getting away from the fact that the cost of healthcare will continue to rise in tandem with the ageing of the UK population.
Worldwide, health systems are struggling to keep pace with the needs of people who, benefiting from medical advances and generally better standards of living, are enjoying a life expectancy roughly 13 years longer than when the NHS was created in 1948.
This is particularly good news for any of us approaching middle age with plenty of joie de vivre and all to live for. The downside, of course, is that with age comes an increased likelihood of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia, which together are sinking the NHS.
By the age of 65, most people will have at least one of these illnesses. By 75 they will have two. According to the BBC, the average 65-year-old costs the NHS 2.5 times more than the average 30-year-old and an 85-year-old costs more than five times as much. And that's without factoring in the explosion in the cost of treating the effects of obesity.
Two-thirds of hospitals beds are currently occupied by the one-third of the population with a long-term condition, such as heart disease and dementia. There is little doubt that, in its current form, the NHS will struggle to support the reality of health needs in the 2020s and beyond.
As more people live with these chronic illnesses, the emphasis on different types of care becomes critical – and that means proper funding of support in the community and care homes, essentially to keep old people out of hospital, leading independent lives wherever possible.
Government funding is obviously crucial to effect any such change in care, but in England over the past four years, the number of older people getting help has fallen by a quarter. The result is large numbers going without care or having to pay for it themselves.
But proper care for the elderly also demands a change in attitude that acknowledges the challenges of the diseases we're all likely to fall foul of at some point and that respects the people living with them daily.
No disease illustrates the problems of care facing our ageing population more than dementia. Too often, sufferers are not given appropriate care, with tragic results. A recent case my team worked on illustrates that even when someone pays for specialist care, it often falls short.
I am currently waiting to settle the sad case of Brian, an 83-year-old man who was living in a publicly funded but privately run care home. Despite warnings of previous attempts, Brian managed to jump out of his bedroom window on the second floor and tragically died five days later.
Despite recommendations from the hospital psychiatric team for constant supervision, Brian was not watched at all times at the nursing home, nor was there emergency protocol in place to protect him.
CCTV footage of the evening he fell shows no sense of emergency in the interval between him telling staff he intended to jump and his doing so. Giving evidence, the care worker said she believed the locked windows were safe. Clearly they were not.
Not surprisingly, Brian's family are devastated that an elderly man was allowed to fatally harm himself while in the care of professionals. Too often we read stories of old people not receiving the support they need, often with disturbing and tragic consequences.
So, yes, let's push the Government to rethink the way it allocates funds but also demand the respect and proper regard for the struggles of old age that we all are likely to face.
By Andrew Morgan, Partner
With more than 20 years experience, Andrew’s claims cover many areas, including:
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