Belfast Telegraph

NHS pressure: Let's stop blaming the elderly

By Claire Keatinge

With recent pressures on the health service in Northern Ireland, older people have been at the receiving end of a service struggling to cope, with cuts to home care packages and overflowing A&E departments regularly making the headlines.

Senior politicians and health chiefs have been quick to place the blame on vulnerable older people, with even the Prime Minister adding his voice to this chorus.

Of course, with more people living longer and generally healthier lives, there will be a change in the needs and demands on our health and social care system.

More support for people to live in their own homes through domiciliary care, or "home help", is required to enable people to live independently for longer.

But when this level of care is not provided at an early stage, older people become more at risk, resulting in increased pressure on the health service.

If government really wants to address the pressures faced by the front line of our health and social care service, priority must be given to support older people in their own homes, to reduce the risk of avoidable A&E admissions.

While A&E provides a vital service for many older people in crisis, the suggestion that older people are somehow to blame for the system's inability to provide care to suit the needs of the population is ludicrous.

The real problem is a lack of planning and commitment to health and social care, shown by the fact that domiciliary care is considered "discretionary spend" and, therefore, something that can be cut.

This appears to be at odds with the ambition of Transforming Your Care (TYC), which sought to provide more care in the community.

We need a health service that is fit for purpose; that meets the care needs of our society and which allows its staff to deliver excellence in healthcare.

This doesn't come from the patient or service-user; it comes from good planning, collaboration and investment.

It is time to stop blaming older people and for political leadership to support and defend the interests of the most vulnerable.

  • Claire Keatinge is Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland

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