Ageing population 'top NHS issue'
Easing strains on the health service caused by an ageing population is the "biggest single challenge" politically of the generation, according to Jeremy Hunt.
The Health Secretary said the NHS was at a "turning point" but insisted that an extra £2 billion pledged for health care by the Conservatives would not simply disappear into the system.
At the general election there will be nearly one million more over 65s in Britain than there were at the time of the 2010 poll and by 2030 the number of over 85s will have doubled to five million, he told a conference staged by think tank Reform.
Mr Hunt said plans he announced yesterday would tackle straining health services by creating a strong economy, changing culture, improving innovation and reforming the way care is delivered.
He said: "This is not about putting more money into the system as it is, but the start of a journey to a very different NHS.
"And what is that different NHS? It is really about facing up to the challenge of an ageing population, the biggest single challenge of my generation of politicians."
A future Conservative government would have a "really ruthless focus" on eliminating the extra costs caused by poor care, the conference heard.
"Every time someone has a fall in a hospital - maybe they venture to the toilet when they should have waited and got help from a nurse - that on average costs the NHS £1,200 because they will probably stay in hospital three days longer than they otherwise would have done.
"So, a really ruthless focus eliminating those costs is going to be important."
But Andy Burnham dismissed the Tory pledge to plough £2 billion into the NHS, claiming it was not new money.
The shadow health secretary told the conference: "I don't think the Government is putting £2 billion new money into the NHS. I think if anyone looked at the small print behind what they have announced, we'll see."
Mr Burnham repeated his warnings that the NHS was under threat and said it was vital new streams of funding were found, including through Labour's plans for a mansion tax.
He added: "We need to find new money, real new money to get into the system to make these changes. So this is why I'm saying that money has to come over and above what the current government is promising.
"But crucially, there is a couple of other things. It cannot come from cuts to other government departments as the current government is proposing. That will just reinforce the problem and in the next parliament it will trap even more money and even more people in acute hospitals if there are more cuts coming down the path for social care."
Mr Burnham said the current health system was at its "very limits" and warned "we may almost be coming beyond them".
A system of incentives must be introduced to stop patients being dragged into the most expensive end of the system, such as care in hospitals, which get paid by the number of people they get through the door.
He said Labour would introduce a "a year of care tariff" for people with on-going needs that would combine all care costs.
"Before any new money comes into the NHS I would argue that change is urgent and has to be made," he said.
"The collapse of social care is threatening to drag down the NHS and it's having a knock-on effect on all NHS services," he added.
Under Labour's 10-year vision for integrating health and social care, GPs would be expected to prescribe exercise as routinely as they do medication and ensure patients were given bereavement counselling "as instant as a prescription".
Patients would have one person to call who is responsible for organising all of their care, he said.
Mr Burnham told the conference he would like health and social care needs to become an integral part of all policy areas, raising the prospect of homes being designed in the future as "places where care will be delivered as a default setting".