Category Archives: Service User

‘Old age,more feared than death’…… have we ever cared about older people?

Has there ever been a ‘golden age’ where older people were consistently valued, respected and protected by family and the institutions that make up wider society?

The World Health Organisation suggests the abuse of older people occurs in many parts of the world with little recognition or response. This serious social problem is often downplayed or hidden from the public view, and considered mostly a private matter. Even today, the abuse of older people continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. However, evidence is accumulating to indicate that the abuse of older people in the UK is an important public health and societal problem.

The full extent of abuse is unknown, however, its social and moral significance is obvious. As such, it demands an active response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons, and a change in our perspective on whom, and what, we value in society.

Although representations of old age and societal responses to older people have differed over time it could be argued old age has always been viewed as negative.

In ancient Greece old age was portrayed as sad, with the Greeks love of beauty marginalising the old. Although some commentators suggest the reality was more complex with the portrayal of older people in the classics as ‘both pejorative and complimentary’ (Thane, p.32). For Plato reverence toward old people was a guarantee of social and political stability, whereas Aristotle disagreed with such positive images. Cicero’s work De Senectute, written in 44 BC, points to the variety in individual experiences of ageing, acknowledging that for those who are poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable, however, suggesting older people need to strive throughout their life to remain intellectually and physically able.

Arguably this belief still underpins social care legislation and policy today in respect of older people.

It has been suggested older people’s status in society is linked to their ability to participate in society from an economic perspective, especially in terms of activity in paid employment. Historically where older people have been unable to participate in paid employment, help and support has been provided through a mixture of family and state support, with an emphasis by government on the former rather than the latter. However, commentators suggest, post industrial revolution, another victim of change were older people. The old did not merely lose power, they also lost respect. The rise of the alms-houses, and institutionalised poor-relief, may indicate their children were increasingly shedding responsibility for their support and transferring it to the community.

Although Thane  argued, this may have been due to families own depths of poverty, rather than lack of care or a shedding of responsibility.

The abuse of older people was not something government identified as a problem throughout this period, although, self-neglect was identified as an issue which government sought to address in the 1948 National Assistance Act.

This is not to say it did not occur, for example, the 1942 Exceptional Needs Enquiry found most older people living with families were there under sufferance. They were often less well off than those who lived with strangers, and lacked essential items of clothing, bedding or household equipment as families used any provision, such as clothing coupons, for personal use. Whether this constituted abuse is not clear as many families who cared for older relatives were often living in poverty themselves and older people often willingly gave their families any support they could, even if this meant going without themselves. Of course, records do not exist to either confirm or deny whether such relationships were abusive or mutually supportive, however, it might suggest in terms of individual worth and personal identity, a cultural norm existed where the welfare of the younger generation was prioritised over that of the old by both young and old.

However, Peter Townsend’s landmark study  of long-stay institutional care for older people in 1950’s Britain, provides a little more insight into the experiences of older people receiving care. One of the interviews he recorded was with a matron of a small private residential home in Greater London, which Townsend suggested was by far the worst home he had visited, was clearly describing abuse, as defined in legislation today.

This suggests the abuse of older people has been going on for a long time. It is increasingly clear the abuse of older people exists, and as a society we cannot ignore it any longer.

The abuse of older people is an age old problem globally…..

As the BBC expose the abuse of older people with undercover filming on Panorama (9pm,30/04/2014), I wonder will we ever care about older people?

For many staying out of harm’s way is a matter of locking doors and windows and avoiding dangerous places, people and situations; however for some older people it is not quite so easy. The threat of abuse is behind those doors, well hidden from public view and for those living in the midst of such abuse violence permeates many aspects of their lives, most frequently perpetrated against them by those charged with providing their care. Regardless of where the care is provided, or who is delivering it, many older people today are at significant risk of harm.

At the heart of the problem lie the individual, personal and institutional attitudes of those charged with providing care for older people, which fails to treat older people compassionately. Our culture of indifference toward older people does a great deal of harm, not just to them, but to us as a society. I rememeber a quote from an article published  three years ago following  a report from the Health Service Ombudsman, that highlighted the abyssmal care older people received in hospital settings, the headline was ‘A society lacking in humanity’,  It’s still pertinent today.

“(F)or a while we may pause to express outrage. But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice… But they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly.” (Independent.co.uk, 16.02.11)

The question is what will soften those hardened hearts?

Government is reluctant to intervene and introduce a stronger legislative framework, Instead, it is seeking to extend responsibility for protecting older people from abuse to “Big Society” , stating ‘people and communities have a part to play in preventing, recognizing and reporting neglect and abuse. It is everyone’s responsibility to be vigilant whilst Government provides direction and leadership, ensuring the law is clear but not over intrusive’ (DoH, 2010, p.25).

However, is ‘Big Society’ able, and willing, to make the care and protection of older people its business, has it ever?

Historically older people, and old age, have often been viewed negatively, and this has arguably contributed to wider societies apparent indifference.  Cicero’s work De Senectute, written in 44 BC, points to the variety in individual experiences of ageing, acknowledging that for those who are poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable, however, suggesting older people need to strive throughout their life to remain intellectually and physically able. A couple thousand years later not much seems to have changed, as research suggests those most vulnerable to abuse are the poor, women, and those over the age of 85 years with dementia.

The abuse of older people is clearly not a new phenomenon, it’s an age old problem, one not just confined to the UK.

Recognition of the abuse and maltreatment of older people throughout the world is not new. Research developed in the 1980’s in Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden and the USA confirmed this was an international phenomena. The following decade saw developments in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Israel, Japan, South Africa, the UK and other European countries. Undercover filming in Italy last year showed the shocking abuse some older people experience in care, it’s distressing to watch, I cannot imagine how distressing it was for those experiencing it.

However, none of this means we can be complacent in the UK.

From a European perspective research suggests older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of its European counterparts, with the UK performing most poorly on indicators such as income, poverty and age discrimination. The report states “the UK faces multiple challenges in providing older people with a positive experience of ageing, scoring poorly (although not always the worst) across every theme of the matrix” (WRVS, 2012, p.8).

It would be foolish to think the abuse of older people is just about problems with individual carers because we cannot ignore the effects of systematic inequalities in liberal societies that effectively exclude, or compromise the rights of older people. Older people’s experiences of ageing in the UK can be improved, and it is all of our responsibility to try and achieve this. However, we need a coherent strategy to bring about the change desired by many who work to support older people. Government in the UK tend to address issues associated with an ageing population within individual silos. Research from Europe suggests those countries taking a joined up approach, where government consider how factors such as income, health, age discrimination and inclusion interact, the more successful policy approaches are likely to be to improve the experience of ageing.

Addressing the abuse of older people is a complex issue, there is no one answer but a series of answers that if woven coherently together would make a difference.

It must be terrifying being an older person today in need of care and support.

Will Hunts vision of a ‘duty of candour’ really bring about cultural change in the NHS?

Department of Health Media have contradicted my suggestion in a previous blog that Mr Hunt has ignored David Behan and CQCs guidance regarding a ‘duty of candour’.  I’ve conteacted them four times for clarification without success. i can find no record evidence to support their assertion.

So what does Clause 80 actually say about the level at which healthcare service providers need to adhere to a duty of candour.  Is it ‘moderate harm’ and/or ‘serious injury?

(See the blog below that started this discussion)

Minutes from CQC’s public board meeting on the 22nd January 2014 state David Behan gave evidence to the ‘Duty of Candour’ review on the 9th January, followed up by a letter on the 16th January 2014. At that review David Behan expressed CQC’s view that the threshold should be set to include death, serous injury and moderate harm, to be consistent with the guidance published in the ‘Being Open Framework‘ and CQC’s interpretation of the term ‘serious’ in Robert Francis’ recommendations.

On the 23rd January 2014 the House of Commons Public Bill Committee published its’ latest amendments. One related to the ‘duty of candour’. Clause 80 on page 72, line 20, now reads

‘The duty of candour specified in regulations made under this section shall require
healthcare service providers who believe or suspect that treatment or care
provided or contributed to death or serious injury to a patient…..’

It appears the committee chose to ignore CQC’s views as ‘moderate harm’ is not included.

From my perspective this makes little sense and does not demonstrate an understanding of the potential of thresholds to provide not just openness in an organisation but also a preventative strategy. Surely enabling individuals to speak up if they identify any harm at all may then prevent poor, or abusive, practice developing into serious injury, or even death.  The fact that policies and legislation appear to be allowing mild (or even moderate) harm to occur surely will contribute to developing the culture we are seeking to eliminate.

Whilst a duty of candour is welcomed , I wonder now is the threshold set too high to really change the ‘culture’ Robert Francis identified as contributing to poor standards of care at Mid Staffordshire.

The latest overview of adult social care in England from the National Audit Office again highlights problems that exist when it clearly states

Safeguarding vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect remains a major risk throughout the sector…….In 2012-2013, 36% of safeguaridng referrals were about alleged abuses by social care or health workers.’

The report also suggests a rise in incidents of abuse could be related to systematic cuts across the sector.  If this is the case the system will need more than a duty of candour and an emphasis on whistle blowing to make a difference.

Thresholds can be effective as a preventative mechanism, but not if they are set too high or used as an administrative convenience to ensure the number of reports are kept at a manageable level for the organisation, which is surely counter productive to changing the ‘culture’ of any failing provider of care.  In my view to really change cultures within organisations we need to take a zero tolerance approach to harm, whether its mild, moderate or severe, it has no place in health and social care.

I came across a quote this week which I find very pertinent in regards to how government policy/legislation translates into frontline practice

‘To assume that an official plan and its implementation in practice are the same is to fly in the face of facts. Invariably to some degree, the plan as put into practice is modified, twisted and reshaped, and take on unforeseen accretions’ (Herbert Blumer)

Hmmmm……….

To change the current culture within some care provider organisations will require far more than the Care Bills ‘Duty of Candour’, it will require 100% commitment from all involved to adhere to not just the letter of the law but the spirit. I do believe this is a positive step forward, however, Government needs to take an active lead, and listen to people like David Behan, to ensure it is implemented to change organisational priorities at the highest level, otherwise the ‘duty of candour’ risks becoming just more empty words and another box to tick.

It’s not just about ‘more resources’ in the NHS, it’s about how resources are best allocated….

Stephen Black writes in the Guardian about the negative effects of focusing on a ‘more resources to the frontline’ discourse in the NHS, suggesting this is far to simplistic. I think he has a point and wonder if it is even true, is it not more a case of using existing resources differently within a system of national health and social care?

The provision of dementia care is a case in point. The organisational culture of some providers in our current system leave some people with dementia neglected and without support where surviving the ‘system’ takes precedence over ‘thriving’, and often leads to unnecessary hospital admissions through poor levels of support at home. This is not about lack of resources but the poor allocation of resources.

As a social work practitioner I saw at first hand how good quality home care could reduce admissions to hospital. Good quality care at home can reduce, or even prevent, carer breakdown. It can support good nutrition which is essential to optimise both physical and mental health, for example by reducing UTI’s (urinary track infections) one of the core reasons I found for many avoidable admissions to hospital.

Avoidable and unnecessary admissions are incredibly detrimental to those whose lives are touched by dementia, not to mention extremely costly. Decisions re admissions are not taken lightly, however, GP’s are often faced with the dilemma of admitting someone with dementia to hospital because that is the only option, not the best option. Any savings made on reducing the cost of unnecessary admissions to hospital would, I’m pretty sure, more than cover any cost incurred in reconfiguring care services provided at home.

We know dementia care in the future is going to have to cope with growing numbers, so we need a system that is sustainable. The notion of sustainability in this context could draw on the ecology movement, where sustainability is defined as “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. This captures two important issues facing dementia care today, the need to support those currently requiring care without compromising the future of the care system to accommodate a growing number of users within budgetary constraints. At first glance the two may appear irreconcilable, however, by building on the drive for personalisation and person-centred dementia care, alongside reshaping organisational ‘cultures’ new concepts and models are able to evolve which can contribute to developing relationship based complete dementia care.

Complete Care: a model in practice – Buurtzorg Nederland

Providing a new form of service provision able to incorporate the principles of relationship based care snd capability, along with notions of ethical practice and sustainability will require a re-organisation of the way in which we currently use resources to deliver care at home. Research from KMPG International (2012) highlights how Buurtzorg Nederland might provide a blue print for such a model.

The founder of Buurtzorg Nederland, Jos de Blok a district nurse, became frustrated with the way traditional services were focused on policy, targets and administration rather than on care and compassion. So he decided to develop his own model where his role as a nurse regained its explicit social value to the community he worked with.

In the Netherlands, the financing and delivery of care in the community is highly fragmented with various tasks – such as washing the patient, serving meals and putting on elastic compressions – paid through different reimbursement schemes and, more often than not, executed by different professionals. As a result, patient care tends to lack coordination, making it difficult for the care providers to respond appropriately to changing patient conditions, which in turn leads to compromised continuity of care and low patient satisfaction.

At the same time, many home care service providers have cut costs by fine-tuning the minimum skill level required to accomplish each task. Dutch home care also tends to be focused on responding to patients’ current problems rather than preventing deterioration, meaning that interventions are generally added on only once the patient’s condition has already worsened.

To respond to these challenges, the home care organization Buurtzorg (meaning neighbourhood care) was created to focus on increasing patient value. Essentially, the program empowers nurses to deliver all the care that patients need. And while this has meant higher costs per hour, the result has been fewer hours in total. Indeed, by changing the model of care, Buurtzorg has accomplished a 50 percent reduction in hours of care, improved quality of care and raised work satisfaction for their employees.

How it led to productivity improvement

One of the keys to the program’s success is that Buurtzorg’s home care nurses organize their work themselves. Moreover, rather than executing fixed tasks and leaving, they use their professional expertise to solve the patient’s problem by making the most of their clients’ existing capabilities, resources and environment to help the patient become more self-sufficient, visits focus on the person not the task. Simply put, even though Buurtzorg professionals’ visits are not time limited the aim is to make themselves superfluous as soon as possible, versus other providers who tend to execute tasks without truly focusing on the patient’s overall capability.

Buurtzorg uses small self-steering teams (with a maximum of 12 nurses) who attend to an area of approximately 15,000 inhabitants and work together to ensure continuity of care. As a result, the professionals build durable relationships with their community, which further strengthens their ability to find local solutions for patients’ problems. Although the teams are independent and self-steering, they are supported by a centralized service organization which provides management information to both the team and the organizations’ leadership in order to minimize local overhead and maximize the professional’s face-to-face time with patients. Every team is responsible for its own clientele and is in close contact with those who use services, their families and doctors. Teams are also responsible for their own financial results.

Key results

In just two years, more than 2,000 nurses have joined the program despite the increasingly tight labour market for nurses in the Netherlands. Indeed, by 2011 Buurtzorg employed 4,000 nurses and nurse assistants working in over 380 autonomous teams.

Preliminary results show that Buurtzorg‘s patients consume just 40 percent of the care that they are entitled to and half of the patients receive care for less than three months. As a result, patient satisfaction scores are 30 percent above the national average and the number of costly episodes requiring unplanned interventions has dropped.

I spoke with Jos de Blok last week, in the years since it’s inception he is as enthusiastic as ever and rightly proud of the difference his teams are making to the lives of those who require support in the community, as well as the professionals delivering care. Surely these would be good outcomes for us all?

I’m no advocate of privatisation, however, I do believe models such as this could be utilised within a National Health and Social Care Service, which is publicly funded to provide sustainability for the future.

#Dementia care at home requires radical change, and we need to start with valuing those who provide care……..

It is estimated dementia effects’ 44 million people worldwide. Leaders from the G8 nations gathered in London in December 2013 to discuss the growing impact of the condition globally and to develop an international strategy to address dementia and its effects on individuals’ lives.

The summit set an ambitious target to identify a cure, or a significant disease modifying therapy, for dementia by 2025, agreeing to increase spending in the areas of dementia research and clinical trials globally to achieve this ambition. The world is working toward safeguarding all our futures in its commitment to tackle dementia, however, we also need to focus on the provision of services for those whose lives are currently touched by dementia, as well as creating new ways of developing and delivering support services to the next generation of dementia sufferers. There are around 800,000 people with dementia in the UK, and the disease costs the economy £23 billion a year. By 2040, the number of people affected is expected to double – and the costs are likely to treble.

Therefore, there are significant numbers of people who may require some level of care and support before the G8‘s ambitions are realised. Many of those who require such support would prefer to live in their own homes.

However, the quality of support in the home for some whose lives are touched by dementia is variable, sometimes abusive and of poor quality leading to breakdowns in care and avoidable admissions to hospital or residential placements which prove incredibly disruptive, and sometimes damaging, to individuals, their carers’ and families, as well as wasteful in terms of resource allocation.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) first expressed their concerns regarding unacceptable standards of care provision in individuals own homes in their State of Care report published in 2012. Whilst CQC was able to report on significant improvements within provision in a subsequent report on home care provision in 2013, ‘Not just a number’, it found some care still fell below the standards those who use services have a right to expect, especially for those individuals with complex needs and dementia. CQC (2013) has identified issues related to a lack of skills and knowledge by staff, particularly around dementia and ‘concerns relating to safeguarding people who use services from abuse’ (p.5).

For example an overview of the returns from 15 local authorities in the South West on the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults (AVA, 2012) suggest that anything between 3.1% and 29.4% of all referrals are for people with dementia. However, the accuracy of these figures is called into question with a suggestion the wide disparity could indicate discrepancies in the recording of data, i.e. the person is identified as having mental health needs but the sub set of “dementia” has not been used. Figures from AVA also suggest anything between 26% – 51% of abuse occurs in an individuals’ own home where primary perpetrators of abuse can be social care staff, ranging from 0.5% – 54.3% and/or partners or family members who represent 8.9% – 44.1% of perpetrators. Whilst the large discrepancies’ in some of these figures can be attributed to methods of recording other research findings do consistently highlight the same groups of individuals as primary perpetrators.

Research undertaken by Cooper et al (2009) indicated that around half of the family carers’ for those with dementia involved in the study reported having been abusive in some way within the last three months. Reasons for such abuse can be complicated, sometimes it is unintentional and actions may be the result of carer stress and isolation or carers own physical and mental vulnerability, whilst, harm can sometimes be intentional. Whatever the cause the effect on the individual with dementia will result in poor outcomes. The consequences of poor, and abusive, care at home for those whose lives are touched by dementia is not only emotionally detrimental but can also be detrimental to their overall physical and mental health, as well as wasteful in terms of the allocation of scarce resources.

Research into care at home suggests many patients with dementia who are dependent on informal carers’ and family are often the group who end up with inappropriate hospital admissions resulting in costly care (Healthcare at Home, 2011). This research focused on developing understanding of out of hospital dementia care by considering what works and what does not work. It found good professional support services for those living at home were the preferred option by both users and providers of services, identifying four key areas of focus in the organisation and delivery of dementia care at home

1) Workforce organisation, configuration and support
2) Continuity of access and expertise
3) Hospital/residential home admission prevention initiatives
4) Socialisation and support in day to day life (Healthcare at Home, 2011)

These findings are consistent with the national overview of home care provision undertaken by the Care Quality Commission (2013) which identified concerns related to the lack of continuity of care workers, task focused care rather than person centred, how providers supported their staff to work with individuals with dementia, organisational practices in terms of Rota’s and time management, the monitoring of quality and the provision of adequate information to enable carers’ to recognise individuals and families preferences and choices to support them in living life the way they want.

Research by KPMG International (2012) suggests care processes have become imprisoned in the wrong physical infrastructure where health and social care systems swamp existing provision designed for the last century which are not fit to meet the demographic care challenges of the 21st century. Whilst we currently have a strategy to change the structure of service provision via self-directed support, personal budgets and personalisation it is unclear how successful these are. Research from Slasberg et al (2013) suggests self-directed support is failing to deliver either personal budgets or personalisation stating ‘However, it is even more serious than that as it is becoming increasingly evident that it is causing significant damage. This is not only in terms of wasted resources through the growth in bureaucracy that has no value, but also in terms of driving further wedges between practitioners and services users’ (p.103).

The importance of the relationship between those who use services and professional staff is evident in KPMG International’s research. They suggest employee costs are often an easy target for cuts when budgets are tight, however, evidence suggest such an unsophisticated approach to cost cutting actually increases costs in the longer term (KPMG International, 2012) as remaining staff become demoralised as they recognise the care they are providing is actually below standard.

This is highlighted in CQC’s national overview of home care services when they identify care provision has fallen below standard stating ‘What is concerning is that our findings come as no surprise to people, their families and carers’, care workers and providers themselves…’ (2013, p.2). Of equal concern is how do those professionals who may feel disempowered by the current system work with service users and patients to support their empowerment?

There is discontent within dementia services from both those who receive services and those who deliver services, and clear evidence of a link between the well-being of staff and organisational performance (Boorman, 2009).

The simple fact is standards of care are raised when carers, whether formal or informal, feel valued, cared for and supported.

‘Hundreds of thousands’ in need of care denied human rights protection

In a Report published on the 27th Jan 2014, the Joint Committee on Human Rights says that the Care Bill must ensure that all providers of publicly arranged or paid-for social care services are bound by the Human Rights Act.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Committee, said:

“Whilst acknowledging the measures in the Care Bill which will enhance human rights, my Committee regrets the Government’s reluctance to fill a significant gap in human rights protection for a particularly vulnerable group. The Human Rights Act currently does not protect hundreds of thousands of people who are receiving care which has been publicly arranged or paid for, including care provided in people’s own home and in some cases in residential care homes. The Care Bill which is currently before Parliament should be amended to ensure that this gap in protection is urgently filled.

However, the government has won a vote to block an extention of the Human Rights Act 1998 to people who pay for their own care or use independent home care agencies. Norman Lamb argues people can challenge their provider through their contract. Therefore inequality to protection under the Act will persist.

The Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 makes it unlawful for public authorities to act in breach of the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Problems have arisen as original definitions of what constituted a ‘public authority’ were too narrow and excluded private and voluntary sector providers leaving many individuals outside of the protection offered by the Act. This loophole has been partially addressed in the Health and Social Care Act (2008). Section 145 of the act provides that individuals placed in an independent care/nursing home by a local authority are covered by the Human Rights Act 1998. To be covered the service user much be placed in residential accommodation under Part III of the National Assistance Act 1948. However, section 145 does not confer human rights obligations on other independent care providers contacted by the local authority, therefore, independent domiciliary care agencies will continue to fall outside of the Human Rights Act 1998. This amendment did not address the issue of individuals who receive publicly arranged social care in their own home, for example, by personal assistants employed under direct payments or as part of an individual budget. Therefore working in a manner consistent with human rights in an individual’s home is left to the discretion of the provider. The Care Bill provided an opportunity to rectify this.

The need for change was well made by the British Institute of Human Rights in 2008 when it suggested individuals receiving care services in their own homes are vulnerable to abuse. The BIHR argue that ‘those who remain outside of the HRA have no direct legal remedy under the Act against those providing care. Consequently, they are unable to directly challenge these shocking abuses as violations of their human rights’ (p3). The potential impact on the quality of care provided by these individuals is made explicit when the BIHR states ‘of equal importance is the fact that these providers are not given any encouragement to develop a culture of respect for the human rights of their vulnerable service users’ (2008, p.3).

Whilst it would be easy to dismiss such concerns as old news, more recent findings suggest little has changed for some. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) first expressed their concerns regarding unacceptable standards of care provision in individuals own homes in their State of Care report published in 2012. Whilst CQC was able to report on significant improvements within provision in a subsequent report on home care provision in 2013, ‘Not just a number’, it found some care still fell below the standards those who use services have a right to expect, especially for those individuals with complex needs and dementia.

We currently have a two tier system of care provision where some users of services are entitled to have their human rights protected, as conferred under the Human Rights Act 1998, whilst others are excluded in the name of the free market.

Surely recent experiences tells us the protection of those most vulnerable cannot be left to the free will of the market?

A new year, but the same old story…..we need to change the narrative around care and the NHS

The Guardians front page informs us, yet again, the ‘soaring cost of long-term care threatens to ‘overwhelm’ the NHS. This follows hot on the heels of 3 years of dire pronouncements from Cameron and co on the viability and future of the NHS. The inevitable demise of the NHS is linked most often to the ‘demographic time bomb’, a phrase which succinctly stigmatises older people for ageing and justifies austerity measures and no end of initiatives from policy makers to introduce changes to meet ideological imperatives, rather than actually build on what has been a succesful economical healthcare system for over 60 years.

It’s time to drop the negative narrative which abounds whenever the NHS is discussed and embrace the positive contribution it makes to all our lives. Ministers and policy makers across all parties are not providing new and innovative thinking on the future of the NHS. Yes, Cameron, Osborne, Hunt, Gove and co really do think they are putting forward radical new plans, which appear to be centred around the ‘tyranny’ of choice and deeper privatisation of traditional public sector provision. This is not new , it’s a rehash of the same old neoliberal dogma beloved of Thatcher and Blair; transform health care into a product, and patients into consumers, ‘codify’ practice to make it ‘professional’ and ‘commoditize’ care to make it a deliverable ‘product’. Putting such narratives around practise makes problems in the NHS easier to talk about and resolve, i.e we need more training for carers, more training for leaders and managers, different providers, a mixed economy of care etc.

Many in government scream ‘consumer choice’ as if it’s the answer to every woe. However, for many the reality of choice is it’s a huge amount of hassle and the ‘choice’ is between equally dismal providers when all anyone really wants is one provider to provide a good service. My belief is the NHS is more than able to achieve this, yes reform is needed, however, the NHS is not just any old healthcare system, it is an expression of our values, our belief in a social institution based on equality and collectivity. It is also a proven alternative to free market competition. Lets not forget the reason for the existence of the NHS, it was founded on the failure of the free markets in a period of financial austerity – a time of new government and new political agendas.

Bevan said ‘Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community’

The NHS is not an indulgence, it tells the world something about us as a nation, it tells us something about ourselves. Reform is required, certainly, but please, lets just try to make sure reform builds on the success of the NHS, not just the narrative of austerity. We as a nation need to ‘own’ the NHS in our collective conscience, otherwise we will lose it to the medical equivalents of the energy companies and financial sector.

Is that what we really want?