How the state is going to provide care for our ageing population is one of the most urgent tasks facing policy makers in governments at both ends of the M4. According to initial data from the 2011 census, there are over 150,000 people in Wales aged 80 or over. This figure is only going to continue to rise as the average age of the population increases and this is going to pose a new set of challenges to our Health and Social Care Systems. Governments of all colours talk starkly about how important it is to take the issue of caring for a burgeoning elderly population seriously but now is the time to take action.
The Health Committee has recently published a report into residential care for older people in Wales. The fact that people are living longer is welcome, but it does bring with it challenges to our health system. Issues like dementia, stroke recovery and falls are far more prevalent in older people and we need to take this into account as we reform and improve our health service.
I believe older people’s wellbeing is best served by staying in their own homes and communities for as long as feasibly possible. The longer they are with families and friends (with proper advocacy, information and support from professionals) the lower the likelihood that they will trigger the need for long-term residential care. That is why I passionately believe in reablement services that help older people get better as quickly as possible and help them stay in their own homes and why I feel that entry into permanent residential care straight from hospital should be seen as an absolute last resort. There is a wonderful example of an intensive reablement service in my constituency which has proven that with intensive physiotherapy and support from occupational therapists, people can return home much sooner after a fall and are much less likely to require re-admission.
In some cases residential care will be the only option. In this case we need to make sure that residents have a more stimulating and purposeful life that takes into account their spiritual needs. This would help to prevent or delay the negative aspects of institutionalisation as well as improving their quality of life. This can be achieved by carers and individuals themselves having a greater involvement in an individual’s residential home life and stronger local community links.
People need information. Caring, and arranging care for, an elderly relative can be a daunting task, but help is available. People need to have clear concise and up to date information that they can easily access. This is why I believe that the forthcoming Social Services (Wales) Bill is a crucial opportunity to make sure we give people as much choice and power over their own care as we can, by allowing the increased roll out of direct payments. Obviously they are not appropriate for everyone, but I believe that it is crucial that those people who want more direct control of who and how their care is provided should be able to do so.
Above all, older people in Wales need to be treated with the care and dignity they deserve and we must make sure we have the funding and the mechanisms to cope with the predicted increase in older people in the future.