Opinion

Could the NHS Long-term Plan do more for intergenerational care?

John Woodward OBE, President and co-founder of Busy Bees

The new year kicked off to a promising start thanks to the release of the NHS Long-term Plan, aiming to save 500,000 lives by focusing on early detection and prevention. Finetuning operational aspects of the NHS will inevitably make healthcare more efficient, providing better outcomes for patients.

Everybody loves the NHS, and as a nation we rely on its services. We must ensure that it is fit for purpose – for both now and for the next 70 years. Integrating health and social care, ensuring both provide great service with efficient processes would further enhance its sustainability. Bringing together technology and support with a central point of contact such as a GP, who can advise best treatment, would ensure continuity of provision. It would also avoid miscommunication and give people more control over their care.

A community approach

A pioneering initiative, already working in countries such as Japan and the United States, is care which brings together the young and the old. The inspirational ‘think-do’ tank, United for All Ages, promotes intergenerational care to tackle loneliness and exclusion. They found around 30-40 UK settings currently supporting both the young and old but have a set a target of 500 by 2023. Health secretary, Matt Hancock, is on board with this idea and mentions the possibility of hosting these settings on NHS hospital sites.

The issues around loneliness in care homes due to people having little contact with family and friends is well documented. Age UK found 60% of people living in care homes have no visitors at all. This is an increasing problem which has a detrimental effect on both the mental and physical health of those in care.

The benefits of caring for the young and old together

The energy and enthusiasm children bring can do a lot to tackle the issues surrounding loneliness. They don’t just lift the spirits but also encourage residents to get involved with activities like singing, dancing and reading. This has many benefits for older people such as increasing mobility, decreasing depression, and even helping with memory loss and dementia.

We must explore various avenues of sustainable care for our increasingly ageing population. Care which is convenient and allows people to manage their own health and wellbeing will lower hospital admissions, relieving pressure on the NHS. An intergenerational care model is a sustainable, increasing quality of life and allowing older people to live in the community for as long as possible.

A knock of effect of communitive care is a happier work environment, increasing job satisfaction and motivation among our hardworking staff providing day to day care. Approaching care as a continuum also sees advancements in children’s empathy, communication and literacy skills.

While the government’s NHS Long-term Plan touches on promising better provisions and support to young carers in emergencies, it does little to promote intergenerational care.

Tackling funding issues in social care

Funding and the effective use of resources are the main issues around joining up health and social care. While the NHS is free at the point of use, social care is heavily means tested. Until we bridge the gap in funding, fully joining up the two is always going to be hard. We need radical initiatives to offer alternative funding channels for social care.

One viable solution which I’m campaigning for and has the backing of leading representative, Care England, is salary sacrifice. Much like with childcare vouchers, this would allow people to accumulate and use their accrued adult social care vouchers towards their own or a loved one’s care.

This has proven to work in childcare and I see many similarities between the two sectors. While social care is more expensive and often required over a longer period, it would help bridge the gap left by state funding. While no one initiative can be the answer, alongside other options this could do much to alleviate the funding issues that prevent a joined-up NHS and social care system.

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