Every vulnerable elderly person in England will have a personal NHS worker who will be responsible for co-ordinating all their heath and care needs, the Heath Secretary Jeremy Hunt promises today.
Warning in an interview with The Independent that dementia has replaced cancer as the biggest challenge facing the NHS, Mr Hunt said that the NHS must entirely overhaul the way it looks after elderly patients.
On Monday he will announce a review into all aspects of later-life care that is expected to bring forward recommendations in the autumn.
However, in advance of the review, he signalled that he expected it to result in significant change across the NHS, including:
* A shake-up of out-of-hours care to ensure that all doctors have access to detailed patient notes – no matter where or when they are treated. Local GPs will also be expected to take more responsibility for out-of-hours care in their communities.
* A single “named individual” will manage all the care needs of elderly patients – from arranging physiotherapy to home help and medical care.
* “Payment by results” – where hospitals get paid for carrying out specific procedures will be scaled back. Instead, hospitals and GPs will be encouraged to look at patient needs holistically.
Mr Hunt said the changes, which will be rolled out from 2014, would be vital to cope with the needs of an elderly population and to ensure that the NHS remained financially viable.
“Nobody disagrees with the concept of a case manager,” he said. “But now we have to make a reality of that – because unless we do that we won’t solve the long-term issues around A&E pressures – and much more importantly we won’t give vulnerable elderly people the kind of care that the NHS has always been proud to give.”
Mr Hunt did not say whether this would be a doctor, district nurse or another health profession, adding that it was a question for the review. “The delight of an ageing population is we all live so much longer but it does mean that we have to cope with years of ill health at the end of our lives that perhaps we didn’t have to cope with before,” he said.
The Government has made care for the elderly a priority in its plans for the NHS. The Coalition announced a Care Bill in the Queen’s Speech last week that will see a £72,000 cap introduced on the amount that elderly people in England have to pay for social care to ensure they do not have to sell their homes to afford care in their final years. It also laid out plans to ensure that people caring for elderly and disabled relatives will be given the right to request support from their local councils – with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warning over the weekend that carers are “at risk physically and emotionally with stress-related illnesses”.