Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Looking after Old People

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Looking after Old People

Article excerpt

TO GIVE the impression of activity during the summer recess, the Government yesterday brought forward its plans for a network of fast-track surgery hospitals with the aim of cutting waiting lists. The idea is a good one but we should not hold our breaths. It is worth remembering that in early 2000 the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, announced plans for elderly patients to be looked after on wards in cottage hospitals, thus freeing up beds in main NHS hospitals and cutting their waiting lists. A couple of months later, Mr Milburn reversed his cottage hospital proposal and decided to place elderly invalids in private nursing homes instead. Bewailing the crassness of this change of policy, we pointed out that not only would it attract nurses out of the NHS into the private sector, thus intensifying staff shortages, but nursing homes, however invaluable the service they provide, have a financial interest in keeping patients as long as possible, at a cost which, in the case of NHS patients, would be transferred to the taxpayer. As of now, 15 months on, absolutely no initiative of any kind appears to have been taken. Almost all London s cottage hospitals have closed (20 of them between 1979 and 1997), and nursing homes are either having to shut down because they cannot afford to comply with new Government directives on Working Time, Health and Safety and business planning, or else are being forced to raise their rates so high that county councils cannot afford to lace people in them. The consequence, as the head of Kent county council pointed out yesterday, is that waiting lists are actually increasing, as elderly people occupy hospital beds because there is nowhere else for them to go, at a cost to the NHS of [pound]1 million a day. It is hardly surprising that a Government so profligate with its initiatives is ineffectual at making headway with them.

What works in the US, Canada and Japan for the elderly would work in Britain a network of state-maintained halfway-house hospitals, such as cottage hospitals and nursing homes, which would be much cheaper than building new hospitals, and would free up thousands of NHS beds without losing staff to the private sector. …

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