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Great news, we’re all living longer! But whilst that’s reason to rejoice, what does it mean for the future of healthcare?
Professor Sir Chris Ham is the Chair of the Coventry & Warwickshire Health & Care Partnership – to which we belong – and is an internationally-renowned expert in this area.
Here he shines a well-informed light on the major issues.
Medical advances have resulted in reductions in premature deaths from major causes like heart attacks, stroke and cancer.
With more people living longer, new challenges have emerged, particularly the increased prevalence of long-term medical conditions such as high blood pressure, breathlessness, and arthritis.
Caring for people with these conditions requires high quality primary care that works hand in hand with specialist care and supports people to manage their own health whenever appropriate.
The changing burden of disease underpins the emphasis now being given to care that is integrated around people and populations.
Integrated care is especially important for the growing number of people with more than one long-term medical condition. These people are often in contact with various health care professionals who need to work together if they are to provide the best possible care.
Mental health services must work closely with other services to ensure that all needs are addressed. For older people, social care is as important as health care in enabling people to live independently in their own homes.
Cuts in council spending have resulted in restrictions in the availability of publicly funded social care, making it difficult to provide care and support to people in need.
This has increased the burden on carers and added to the difficulties facing the NHS in discharging people from hospital when they are ready to go home or be admitted to residential care.
Aligning the work of social care staff with that of NHS colleagues can help to avoid silo working and avoid patients and service users experiencing care that is fragmented.
The government must play its part by providing sufficient resources and putting social care funding on a sustainable and equitable basis for the long term. The government should also reconsider proposed immigration rules to make it possible to continue to recruit care staff from other countries.
The changing burden of disease explains the renewed interest in preventing illness as well as treating sickness.
Risk factors like overweight and obesity present huge challenges for the future and require partnerships between the NHS, councils and many others to create the conditions in which people are supported to make healthy choices.
Only by making use of all the assets available in our communities will it be possible to make a reality of shared responsibility for health and wellbeing.
Shared responsibility means recognising that the decisions each of us makes affects how long we live and the quality of our lives.
The advice and support we receive from health care professionals remain vital but are only fully effective if we act on this advice and play our own part in avoiding unhealthy behaviours.
This is easier for some people than others which is why responsibility must be reinforced through the involvement of families, friends and peers and action on the wider determinants of health and wellbeing.
Coventry and Warwickshire have built the foundations of prevention through the work of Health and Wellbeing Boards and the Place Forum under the leadership of Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council.
The Health and Care Partnership that I chair rests on these foundations and our new five-year plan sets out ambitions for making further progress in improving the health of the people we serve and tackling inequalities.
This includes targeting help on localities where needs are greatest.
These ambitions must involve voluntary and community sector organisations who already make a major contribution in delivering services and acting as advocates for groups in the population whose needs are not always well met by public services.
Areas like Wigan have demonstrated the benefits of working in partnership with these organisations and we are seeking to learn from these areas as we move from planning to implementation.
One of the most important lessons is the need to be bold in how we use our resources and embrace innovations in care wherever they may arise.
Professor Sir Chris Ham
Coventry & Warwickshire Health & Care Partnership