Friday, 16 April 2010

National Care Service

Before I start, I should put a disclaimer, this isn't a political post, it's more general thoughts on how to solve a growing problem. Everyone knows that we have an ageing population and that this is costing the country a lot of money to provide long-term care for them all as life expectancy after retirement has rocketed. This is a major success story for the NHS but it does leave a problem in need of solving, how do you care for all these people?

The way it stands at the moment there are people who are having to spend every last penny of their savings just to remain safe and healthy in old age. Everyone agrees that a new way forward is needed, they just differ in how they provide it. I don't think tinkering around the edges of the current system is the answer, giving a bit of extra cash to carer X or rest home Y isn't going to be a long-term solution. What we need is a whole new way of thinking about the issue.
For a start, we need to re-consider what we define as old, if people are living longer then its necessary to ask whether they can work longer. If the retirement age is raised, we reduce the burden slightly, but it still doesn't solve the problem.
What's really needed is a universal system that covers the entire country, where taxpayer supported aid is available to the most needy. Much like the NHS before it, we need to join a fragmented system of individual carers and provide a standard of care that everyone across the country, regardless of wealth, can expect to receive. I don't think you can do it on a voluntary insurance-based system, for it to work everyone has to chip in.
We have, in effect, a chance to create a new kind of NHS which cares for the elderly, with all the knowledge of what went wrong in the past, and to make it work. A good level of care will not only help those elderly people who need it, but take the strain off carers and a lot of strain of the healthcare system as preventing accidents in the elderly will save a substantial amount.
It won't be easy to get a system everyone's happy with, but start with the principle that everyone is entitled to care in old age, and that we should share the cost we will all benefit from, and we could well end up with something special. Decades later, we might love the NCS like we love the NHS nowadays.

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