Our ageing population is something to be celebrated. But with overstretched resources and funding cuts totalling £4.6 billion between 2010 and 2015, sick, older and disabled people in England are not being looked after properly.
Without adequate funding the challenges facing our health and social care system will not only persist, but get worse.
What do health and social care cuts mean for people?
The British Red Cross helps more than 200,000 people a year live independently at home. Through this work, we have seen first-hand the positive impact support at home can have both on people and the system.
Cuts to health and social care are forcing more people into crisis and causing unnecessary suffering. More people are finding they have no one to help them with everyday care needs.
This means some people are not getting their medicine or being washed. It means people are left with nobody to change their urinary catheter. It means people might fall and not be found for days.
It also means family members, who are sometimes not well themselves, are struggling to help their loved ones with day-to-day tasks.
What could improve health and social care in the UK?
It is now widely recognised that 'prevention is better than cure'. Low-level practical and emotional support early on can help vulnerable people live independently in their own homes.
It can also reduce costs for both individuals and the public purse.
In 2014, the ambition to shift towards a truly preventative system was enshrined in law via the Care Act. Prevention is also a key component of the NHS Five Year Forward View.
These initiatives show a real willingness to change the way the system works. Yet with overstretched resources, local authorities are struggling to meet their statutory duties let alone invest in services that prevent, reduce and delay the need for care.
In fact, local authority spend on prevention has reduced since these initiatives have come into force.
- We want to see a long-term, person-centred plan for health and social care in England. This should be developed in partnership with patients, professionals and the wider sector.
This plan should prioritise ensuring people get the support they need to live independently at home.
- We want social care to be given the priority it deserves.
An independent analysis of current and predicted levels of unmet need in the short, medium and long term, including costings, should be carried out as a priority by the new government.
- We want to see more people able to access preventative services, and fewer people reaching the point of health and social care crisis.
The Care Act’s prevention duty and responsibilities should be met with new additional resources.
All health and social care planning documents, national and local, should fully incorporate and prioritise prevention.
The importance of non-clinical interventions needs to be recognised. Examples include the provision of short-term wheelchairs, support at home and services that help reduce loneliness and social isolation.