Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A growing challenge

We are living longer and, generally, we are fitter and healthier at 60 and 70 and 80 than we have ever been before. This is something we ought to celebrate. However, that brings some big challenges.

If we are living longer in our pensioner years, we need to make increased contributions during our working years in order to fund our pensions. We can’t expect that our children, grand-children and even great-grand-children will simply be able to support us out of their current income.

Secondly, in general, as we grow older, we expect and need increased medical care. Together with significant advances in medical intervention – and they always seem to be very expensive – this inevitably means we need to pay more for our health services.

Thirdly, the increase in the numbers of people living longer also means an increase in the number of people requiring considerable social care. Whatever changes are made to continue to support people living in their own homes, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in demand for residential care. Today’s residents of old people’s homes require much more care than those of even twenty years ago. Further, there will be a continuing increase in the number of people who need specialised care because they are suffering from dementia.

These are really big challenges – economically and socially. The challenge is growing every day. It won’t go away by sticking our heads under the pillows. Neither should we believe that it is simply possible to continue as we are.

It is against this background that we should all welcome the decision of Sheffield NHS Trust to change its decision about the future of two care homes – Woodland View and Birch Avenue.

The Trust had originally proposed removing a £2.8m annual additional grant to the homes, suggesting that this was an unnecessary subsidy and that equivalent care could be provided for considerably less.

I have strongly supported residents, relatives and staff in exploring whether this was really the case. Detailed investigation showed that the homes were providing enhanced care for residents with special needs. Although most of the residents required this level of care, a minority didn’t. However, the demand for enhanced care places is increasing.

Therefore, the Trust has made a sensible decision. All future admissions will be for people who need enhanced and complex care; meanwhile, current residents not requiring such support will be allowed to remain.

It’s the right decision, but it isn’t cheap. The top-up cost alone is equivalent to the total council tax income from 2000 homes. It makes you think.