The Guardian Newspaper is having a debate on the challenges facing the country as the size of the ageing population grows significantly. What follows is my personal contribution to the debate as posted on the Guardian Website.
As someone who is gradually moving into this cohort of 65+, and having worked professionally at the interface of health and social services in both public and the independent sectors, I despair of our political elite.
For the last 30 years we have had various reports and commissions, but no political party has really tackled what is now heading up for a serious issue. The NHS is creaking under the strains of demand in the 21st Century - designed for acute care,70% of it is now dealing with chronic long term conditions - the majority in the older population. The last Langsley re-organisation was another shifting of the chairs on the Titanic and even some in government are now questioning the validity of this move. There needs to be a proper grown up national conversation about the role of the NHS and Social Care - how it is organised, and properly funded.
The UK is not a poor country - it can spend billions of pounds on trident replacement, new aircraft carriers with no planes and defense in general yet it says it can't fund proper care and support for people who have worked hard to build a prosperous country. Ageism is rife in politics, the NHS, Social Services and society in general.
In the conversation people will need to decide whether we pay for these necessary services out of taxation or do people themselves have to contribute more on a means tested basis or a bit of both. On its own, private insurance is not going to provide the solution.
Arguments about free TV licenses and Bus Passes are side shows given the scale of the gap that is emerging in demand and supply of health and social care. The bizarre situation of cutting social care budgets by 25% and then wondering why the NHS is over-run shows just how little joined-up thinking there is at the Department of Health and Government.
The Kings Fund, Demos and others have all published recent reports so we don't need more commissions, what we need is a political consensus on a way forward that everyone can sign up to. If we have a change of Government with Labour in power, we will face another re-organisation, merging health and social care commissioning, which again will divert attention from the real issues.
I can only hope that the grey vote at the ballot box wakes up – although I don’t see any political party with polices that will begin to address the issues.
In short we need a coherent and sustainable policy, if possible agreed by all parties, driven by a dedicated minister for older people. We need honesty about who will need to fund health and social care and to what extent. The 'reforms' about financing social care due in 2016 are a sham with the DH's own predictions indicating that only about 20% of people will get state support for their social care needs at home or in care homes - so as it stands, yes houses will need to be sold to pay for care fees!