Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Critical of Provisions for Elderly

Research conducted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman suggests that elderly people are reluctant to make complaints about poor healthcare, or do not know how to do so.

56 per cent of those aged over 65 who experienced a problem did not complain owing to worries regarding future treatment.

A further 20 per cent of those surveyed did not even know how to submit a complaint, while one-in-three felt that any form of complaint would have made minimal or no difference to the situation.

The ombudsman reflected that many elderly people are simply suffering in silence, and that this is an issue of which health service workers need to be aware.

Julie Mellor from the ombudsman suggested that the attitude of the NHS could lead to missed opportunities to improve the service for elderly people.

The research involved a national survey of almost 700 people over the age of 65, as well as focus groups and case studies.

Increasingly it seems that there is a technological gulf between the elderly and the NHS.

One carer told the authors of the report that when older people experienced a problem, not only do they not know where to go, but they are often referred to a computer or website to which they have no access.

While library usage can be an option, in many cases elderly people simply do not have the skills to use these automated systems.

The report recommended a more proactive approach from NHS providers, saying they should make sure all users know how to complain and are reassured there will not be repercussions.

Although the report generally painted a negative picture of the situation, it was not all bad news for the NHS.

The report did state that some form of progress had been made, with the government having already made steps to explore a new streamlined public ombudsman service in order to handle complaints in the future.

But despite this relatively cheery note, campaigners still consider the research a significant cause for concern.

Commenting on the issue, Age UK director Caroline Abrahams suggested that the NHS was fundamentally failing to pay heed to the experiences and viewpoints of elderly people.

“Seeking and responding to older people’s views and experiences is crucial if we are to prevent future care scandals like those that have too often blighted our hospitals and care homes in recent years.”

Healthwatch England said a universal, independent complaints advocacy service that was easy to find and simple to use would improve the situation.

With the NHS under increasing pressure, it is clear that streamline processes need to be put in place to ensure that the elderly are dealt with more efficiently.

 
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Think Tank Suggests Care Homes Facing Dire Emergency

A recent report suggests that care homes across the UK could faces severe financial difficulties in the foreseeable future.

The ResPublica think tank even reports that the entire residential care system could collapse in the next five years, if £3 billion of annual investment is not made.

In addition to these claims, the think tank that also suggests that in the region of 40,000 beds will be lost due to the closure of existing care homes.

This will occur due to a shortage of £1 billion in annual funding of the residential system.

By the same token, rising demand will ensure that huge pressure is placed on care homes in the coming years.

ResPublica goes as far as describing the current situation as “a potentially fatal crisis”, yet local authority spending on social care for older people has fallen by 17 per cent since 2009.

It is also suggested by the think tank that the introduction of the National Living Wage will increase the burden on care homes, contributing several hundred million further deficit to the funding gap.

The authors of the report were at pains to point out that the national living wage was indeed a great step forward, with the potential to improve living conditions for 6 million low-paid employees.

However, they also emphasised that you it could have a vast impact on the social care sector, with more funding needed to pay employees adequately.

This latest report can be placed in the context of the recent decision by Britain’s biggest care home provider, Four Seasons Health Care, to sell off a string of homes amid financial pressures.

The report has some dire warnings for the future of the residential care system.

“Given the perilous state of the industry, we believe the most likely outcome is the vast majority of care home residents flowing through to hospitals.” It adds: “This would require the NHS to find £3 billion per year by 2020/21 to support frail and aged people who no longer have a home in the residential care sector, and who do not belong – nor wish to be – in a hospital,” the report concludes.

Commenting on the issue, Izzi Seccombe, the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing spokesperson, reflected that the situation is extremely urgent and indeed dire.

“We are heading towards a devastating care home collapse. Health and social care leaders widely recognise that a properly funded social care system is essential to alleviate the pressures on the NHS…it is imperative that the Government fully addresses this in the Spending Review before we see a care disaster unfold.”

Approximately 640,000 people in the UK turned 65; in 2012, the figure was about 800,000. There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18.

 
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Economist Criticises Government Decision Over Social Care Cap

A major independent review into the social care system has suggested that thousands of elderly people risk being condemned to a miserable last few weeks of their lives.

The research comes in the wake of a government decision to u-turn on its decision to cap funding for the service.

Dame Kate Barker described the decision to shelve the cap as “extraordinary” and said it meant there now appears to be “no strategy whatever” to meet demand for care as the population ages.

In particular, the government policy is set to ensure that middle-class elderly people in care homes will be forced to pay extra fees in order to subsidise others.

Barker described this policy as wrong and perverse.

The decision of the government is set to have a massive impact on care bills and social care in the coming years.

Many countries are having to deal with greying populations, as Western people live longer lives.

Additionally, the relatively small number of children being born in Western countries means that there are less young people around to care for the elderly.

The number of people receiving social care in England has fallen by a quarter – or 400,000 – in the last five years at a time when the elderly population has grown by 14 per cent.

“Tackling the deficit does not need to be at the expense of older and disabled people in need of care and support. These are just awful, awful things that we’re doing to people – and that was before. One feels that those cases will get greater and I think then people will start to have an outcry,” the aforementioned Barker argued.

Currently anyone with assets, including their home, worth more than around £23,250 does not qualify for state support with care.

But reforms passed by the coalition government during the previous parliament, based on recommendations by the economist Sir Andrew Dilnot, promised to raise that threshold significantly and cap the amount anyone would have to pay in their lifetime on care at £72,000.

This decision has been particularly criticised as it represents a sacrifice of pledges made in the party’s manifesto.

It is feared that many British people could be left without care under the terms of the government policy.

As many European nations face social care issues, countries such as Germany have already begun exporting elderly people to care homes in the Middle East.

This is a chilling foreshadowing of what could occur in Britain in the coming years, and it certainly appears that the feud related to this issue is indicative of these problems.

Critics of this latest decision state that it effectively amounts to asking frail elderly people to fund the social care system.

 
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NHS Figures Indicate that ‘Bedblocking’ Problem is Intensifying

According to the latest figures released by the NHS, the problem of so-called ‘bedblocking’ has grown worse over the last six months.

Bedblocking refers to the long-term occupation of hospital beds, often by elderly people, due to a shortage of suitable care elsewhere.

Indeed, figures from the report indicate that nearly half of all delays can be attributed to the elderly.

Reports suggest that delayed discharge from hospital, fuelled by the lack of beds for patients needing social care, is costing the NHS more than £300m annually.

In August of this year alone, the equivalent of over 93,000 hospital bed days were lost due to delayed discharge.

To put this into perspective, this figure has increased by over two-thirds over the last five years.

These latest figures could be considered a disastrous indication of the current position of the NHS considering that the health organisation has amassed debts of nearly £1 billion over the last three months according to recent financial accounting.

And NHS regulator Monitor has already warned that the health service will ultimately accrue a £2 billion deficit by the end of the existing fiscal year.

Over the past year alone there has been more than one-million delayed days, costing the NHS in the region of £305 million.

Yet despite the pressure on hospitals, evidence also suggest that over half of all new requests for home care support are ultimately denied.

It is almost inevitable under the circumstances that these troubling figures would become a political football, and indeed the two main political parties disagreed strongly on the subject.

Heidi Alexander, the Shadow Health Secretary, was predictably domain on the Tory responsibility for their existing situation.

“These appalling figures show the scale of the crisis in older people’s care under the Tories. Increasing numbers of frail, elderly people are reaching crisis point, ending up in A&E and then getting stuck in hospital. This could be avoided if they had the right care and support at home. Instead, the Government has cut social care budgets, which is bad for older people and bad for the NHS too. At a time when the NHS is facing a financial crisis, it is wasting over £300m a year on delayed discharges. This cannot go on,” Alexander asserted.

But responding to the comments of the Shadow Health Secretary, a government spokesman pointed out that the Conservative party has made major commitments toward further NHS funding

“Labour have no plan to give the NHS the funding it needs. We are putting £10bn extra in to create a seven-day service and get people out of hospital more quickly.” In total, there were 1,116,661 acute delayed days – or delayed discharge from hospital days – in the 12 months to August 2015. Last year there were 873,415 days lost due to bedblocking, suggesting the problem is worsening,” the spokesman stated.

It is perhaps worth pointing out with regard to these claims that the NHS already has an admitted budget deficit of £30 billion, and thus the extra funding will only cover one-third of this likely optimistic estimate.

Meanwhile, in a recent Conservative party conference speech, David Cameron once again emphasised his intention to make the NHS available to all patients seven days a week.

While there has been scepticism about this plan in some quarters, further question marks must surely be attached to this plan in the light of recent figures.

 
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The British Geriatrics Society Launches Campaign to Reduce Falls in Elderly

The British Geriatrics Society has recently announced a joint commitment, along with 16 other European organisations, to promote active ageing through the prevention of falls.

This has culminated in a campaign that is being dubbed ‘Stay Strong, Stay Steady’.

Led by the ProFouND network, based at the University of Manchester, the campaign has been timed in order to mesh with the UN’s International Day of Older Persons.

The 17-member action plan, developed in the framework of the three-year EC-funded ProFouND project, aims to:

• Increase the visibility of fall-related injuries amongst older people.

• Share good practice in promoting active lifestyles and falls prevention, and advocate for long term EU, national, regional and local level facilitated community programmes in these areas.

• Enhance the quality of data on fall-related injuries, to make comparison and evaluation easier across different countries and regions.

• Support national member organisations in integrating appropriate education and training modules for professional development and vocational training.

• To help professionals working with older people across health, social care, urban design, public transportation, fitness and other areas to understand and cover falls prevention in their work.

• Expand and further develop Fall Awareness Campaigns at national and European level.

Organisations including the British Geriatrics Society have compiled and underlined important evidence related to falls, which indicates that they should no longer be considered an inevitable part of ageing.

The joint action plan aims to increase healthy life by two years for older people in Europe by 2020, as a result of reducing the number of preventable falls that elderly people experience.

Speaking on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society, Professor Adam Gordon outlined the value of this initiative.

“We now know of a range of interventions proven to reduce the risk of falls, ranging from specific types of exercise, physiotherapy, adaptations to living environments and changes to lifestyle, care practices and medications. The problem is that we don’t always deliver these to people who are most at risk of falls. The ProFouND initiative challenges us as a society to be more ambitious about making sure those at risk of falls get the evidence-based care that they need. This is a very positive step forward,” Gordon commented.

Dr Emma Stanmore, from The University of Manchester, indicated that people from all backgrounds have a role to play in raising awareness of this issue.

“Everyone can help to reduce this preventable and serious problem and the first step is to break the myth that falls are unavoidable. With some simple methods such as helping more older people to undertake regular strength and balance exercises, and safety checking their homes, over a million falls could be prevented each year,” Stanmore stated.

Falls are one of the major health threats in older age, more common than both strokes and heart attacks.

Yet despite the serious consequences involved, the risks of preventable falls are often overlooked.

One-third of people over 65 who live outside of care will fall each year; this increases to 50 per cent above the age of 80.

 
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British Geriatrics Society to Join Forces with Doctors.net.uk

The British Geriatrics Society has announced a collaboration with Doctors.net.uk that will see the two join forces in an attempt to improve the care of older patients.

Doctors.net.uk is a website that should be familiar to most healthcare professionals, as it is currently used by around 90 per cent of UK doctors.

The website provides members with a range of services such as educational CPD modules.

As Britain develops a more ‘greying’ population in the coming years, it is naturally expected that the number of people developing geriatric conditions will increase.

Already numerous countries are experiencing massive difficulties with population demographics.

A report in The Guardian in December, 2012 indicated that Germany has begun to ‘export’ elderly and sick residents to foreign care homes owing to economic reasons.

Rising costs and falling standards in one of the world’s wealthiest nations has seen German citizens rehoused in care homes in eastern Europe and Asia.

Similar schemes have been reported in Japan, as several advanced industrial nations face demographic challenges.

Although many nations have a lower birth rate than the UK, it is quite probable that Britain will nonetheless also have to tackle these issues in the very foreseeable future; hence the issue of long-term health is brought into sharper focus.

Speaking on the new partnership between the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) and Doctors.net.uk, the Chief Executive of BGS, Colin Nee, was keen to emphasise the importance of the issue.

“The number of patients with multiple long-term health conditions is increasing all the time. So I am delighted to announce this new partnership which can only benefit older people with complex health needs. In joining forces, Doctors.net.uk and the British Geriatrics Society will work together to target information, educational events and networking opportunities to doctors  – not just to the specialists but also our GPs who are often the first port of call for older people when they become unwell,” Nee stated.

Also commenting on the collaboration, Dr Tim Ringrose, CEO of Doctors.net.uk, suggested that the partnership would hugely benefit elderly members of society.

“Care for elderly patients is of crucial importance for the NHS. Many older patients have multiple and complex medical issues and place a high demand on NHS services. This partnership will provide all doctors with access to high quality information and education about best practice to help them provide the best possible care whilst reducing unnecessary hospital admissions and cost,” Ringrose suggested.

While health and social care unquestionably face challenges owing to the ageing population, the trend is also a testimony to the effectiveness of medical care.

In a society in which media coverage of health-related issues tends to focus on negatives, this admittedly testing scenario should at least be looked upon positively to some extent.

 
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