November 25, 2004

Services for Older People Improve but Gaps Remain

Professionals praised but concerns voiced over mental health and breast checks

HEALTH SERVICES for older people have improved markedly over the past three years, but concerns remain over mental health and palliative care, nurses and campaigners said last week.

They were responding to a report published by the Department of Health's national director for older people's health, Ian Philp, on progress since the publication of the National Service Framework for Older People (NSF).

Professor Philp painted a positive picture, claiming improved services are helping older people lead longer, healthier and more active lives.

According to the report, Better Health in Old Age, the gap between hospital and community care is closing, with almost one million bed days a year saved due to reductions in delayed discharge.

Professor Philp said some services in England are now leading the developed world: 'Services for people with age-related conditions, such as stroke and falls and fractures, are moving from being third class to world class.' This was disputed by the Stroke Association, which said specialist services remain inadeguate.

New ball park: older people now have more active lives

Looking to the future, Professor Philp said: 'Over the next few years I expect older people and their families to have increasingly positive expectations for good health in old age. This means older people having greater control over their services as well as taking more responsibility for looking after their own health.'

RCN gerontological nursing adviser Pauline Ford said nurses should take much of the credit for the improvements as they had been central to the success of the NSF.

She said: 'The progress is a great tribute to nurses' commitment, creativity and determination. But it is important we don't become complacent. We need to ensure mental health services for older people - an area that needs a huge amount of work - become a priority.'

She said the RCN has already raised concerns about older people's mental health services with Professor Philp, and she will raise them again when she meets national director for mental health Louis Appleby next month.

Help the Aged health and social policy manager Jonathan Ellis agreed there has been progress in areas such as falls prevention, and he paid tribute to the professionals who have helped this happen.

But he added: 'Fundamental care and support to help older people to retain their independence and enjoy a healthy, happy retirement are too often piecemeal and in short supply.'

Age Concern England also said that significantly more needs to be done. For example, women over 70 are not routinely invited for breast checks despite being at greater risk of cancer than younger women.

Copyright RCN Publishing Company Ltd. Nov 10-Nov 16, 2004