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Blog: 'The costs of looking after older people can be quite scary'

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Lynn Young wonders whether the party conferences can address the real issues faced by our ageing population

Autumn is here and it feels like summer again. The sun is shining and apart from the rapidly darkening evenings one could pretend that it's June rather then the end of September. But the party conference season is upon us and the RCN tradtionally has a presence at each of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat shindigs. These conferences are a hive of debate, discussions, bloodletting and fringe meetings, where a huge range of topical issues are scrutinised and opinions flow.

Health is of always a major item of interest and each party claims it will save the NHS, improve the services and make certain that we all receive the best possible care, whenever and wherever it is needed.

It never fails to intrigue me how each party wish us to believe it is them and only them that has the answers to improve current imperfections. And, of course the NHS is imperfect, but how many nations yearn for our way of caring, gallantly serving a population of over 58 million people every day.

Budding politicians tend to talk about structures, systems and money, rather then have the courage to publicly speak about the huge ethical and moral issues facing a nation, which very a majority population over the age of 65 years.

The costs of looking after older people with long-term conditions, and doing it well, can be quite scary, particularly when you consider the vast number tha will require care in the future. But the heavy cost involved is not in itself a good reason for failing to provide excellent care and treatment to our many older people. Who on earth can decide ethically and with the greater good in mind how we best spend public funds?

Much of my knowledge is based upon my 90-year-old mother and her equally mature friends. Most take a cocktail of medicines each day to help them keep going, a heroic 95-year-old soul continues to have twice weekly renal dialysis and another is being successfully treated for leukaemia. What a success story for our wonderful NHS, but how are we going to fairly and intelligently deal with dilemmas of this nature in the future?

And these issues do not simply apply to older people, but also premature babies, many of whom grow up to be profoundly disabled and in need of constant care.

This blog, dear readers, is not about refusing care for the most needy people. It is about the need for a public debate on how we cope with the consequences of our ability to prolong human life, to invent ever-better technologies, designer-styled medicines and machines that can perform better than surgeons.

So, how about party conferences showing some courage and honesty and publicly debating how our beloved NHS can properly deal with the real human issues, rather then another strategy and another white paper?

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