Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director, Age UK
At Age UK we’ve been busy planning our annual flagship ‘For Later Life’ conference. We decided early on that we wanted to focus this year’s event on the theme of ‘transforming services for a better and longer life’, because this chimes with current concerns. As you have recently published a blog by British Geriatrics Society Honorary Secretary, Dr Adam Gordon, on “transforming primary care”, we clearly got that right!
At last, more policymakers seem to be waking up to the fact of demographic change and the need to respond. Currently we think many are concentrating too much on the risks and not enough on the opportunities, and action is admittedly often less obvious than words, but still, the penny has begun to drop and that’s good news.
Happily, this seems to be true of the NHS as well. We are delighted that Simon Stevens, incoming chief executive of NHS England, will be the keynote speaker at our conference. We had asked him to speak about ‘the future of the NHS’ but interestingly, he has asked for a subtle change of title to ‘future proofing the NHS’.
Although he has only been in post for a few weeks it is already apparent that Mr Stevens ‘gets it’ about demographic change and the major challenge this represents for the NHS. And of course he is right, action is needed so that the NHS is much better equipped tomorrow than it is today to meet the needs of the growing numbers of older people who are managing several long term conditions, so they can live as well and as independently as possible, for as long as possible.
There is a lot of professional and policy consensus about this, perhaps insufficient articulation as yet about what good looks like, and an absence of information and guidance about how to move from where we are now to where we need to be.
Admittedly, there are some big barriers in the way, such as a system of incentives within the NHS that is not always aligned with these priorities, and difficulties in moving more resources into primary care, given funding pressures and public mistrust about so-called ‘hospital reconfiguration’. However, we are hoping that our conference will promote constructive debate on all these topics and showcase some solutions too, and it will be fascinating to see what Simon Stevens has to say.
Clearly, if the NHS is to be successfully ‘future proofed’ his leadership is going to be crucial over the next few years and at Age UK we hope to play a supportive part too, together, I hope, with yourselves at the BGS. Your members are in the vanguard when it comes to understanding the needs of older people within a modernised NHS and in designing and implementing effective responses, so your role really will matter. Meanwhile, we hope to see some of you at our conference in a few months’ time, to participate in what I’m sure will be a lively debate. For more information please see: www.ageuk.org.uk/forlaterlife