Old age is the new middle age - Health Secretary Alan Johnson says

Health Secretary Alan Johnson today called on the NHS to rise to the challenge of providing more and better preventative care for older people.

Outlining a package of measures to empower older people to live longer, healthier and more independent lives, Mr Johnson said local health and social care providers needed to work more closely to build on services already provided and ensure people know to what they are entitled.

The Health Secretary acknowledged the provision of health and social care services for older people was patchy with some areas already ahead of the game while others had a long way to go.

Mr Johnson said:

"People are living longer and that is to be celebrated. But I want to ensure, where possible, those extra years are quality years where people have and are aware of basic entitlements to help them lead healthy, independent lives. Our aim must be to make quality of life stretch right to the end of life.

"Many of those entitlements already exist, but people may not be aware of them. In other areas, there is more work to be done. Over the coming months, I will be talking to local health and care providers about ways to provide more and better preventative care for older people.

"We are not starting from a low base. Much has already been done. But I want today's announcement to be the first step on the next stage of our journey towards better, more personalised care. We want to ensure that older people see their local services improve, and that it becomes easier for them to access and use these services.

"Improving services for older people should be a priority for the NHS."

Speaking at the King's Fund, Mr Johnson announced:

New focus on innovative healthcare such as telecare, which helps older people manage their conditions in their own homes, through setting up a new national learning network;

  • An expert group to help the NHS better provide services for falls, fractures and osteoporosis;
  • A review of footcare services, to ensure that particularly toenail cutting is made more accessible to older people, and delivered in an integrated way across all providers of such services;
  • Ongoing commitment to reducing waits for hearing tests and the fitting of hearing aids.

These new measures come in addition to existing prevention services that older people are already entitled to - these include flu vaccination, cancer screening, eye checks, and integrated care planning - and recently announced services that are now being rolled out, including vascular checks, AAA screening and Mid-Life LifeChecks.

Further detail will be announced later this year, following engagement with stakeholders and the local NHS.

Earlier this year we set out our intention to introduce vascular checks for everyone between the ages of 40 and 74. These checks will prevent up to 9,500 heart attacks and strokes every year and save 2,000 lives.

Mr Johnson also called on the NHS and social care services to now use the tools available to them to consult with their elderly population about what services they want commissioned in their area:

He said:

"We would like local services to talk to their elderly populations - those living independently at home as much as those in residential care - to ensure the services they provide are the right ones for them."

Key stakeholders welcomed the speech.

Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern England, said:

"Good health and wellbeing are essential for making the most out of later life. People aged 65 and over are the fastest growing age group in Britain and now there are more centenarians than ever before. We are living longer, but for many older people later life is often blighted by illness and disability.

"We strongly welcome the intention to focus on preventative health, including podiatry and nail cutting, as well as life threatening conditions. Shifting the focus to prevent health problems rather than just responding to crises makes good sense for everyone."

Paul Cann, Director of Policy for Help the Aged, said:

"We are looking forward to helping the Government make sure this package delivers to help achieve real benefits to older people's lives."

Although today's announcement will empower older people to access better health and social care services, the manner in which older people are treated is just as important as what services they can access. People want, and have a right to expect, services with dignity and respect at their heart.

Last year the Department of Health launched the first ever national campaign that aims to put dignity and respect at the heart of the services we offer to older people. A national dignity tour has begun this week to highlight good practice and spread the message that people must be treated in a dignified and respectful manner at all times.


1. Along with the new measures announced above, the prevention package will bring together a set of the existing core prevention services for older people - including flu vaccination, cancer screening, eye checks and integrated care planning - and services that are currently being rolled out, such as vascular checks, AAA screening and MidLife LifeChecks.

2. For more information or a copy of the speech please ring the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5724.

3. Telecare - The continuous, automatic and remote monitoring of real-time emergencies and lifestyle changes over time in order to manage the risks associated with independent living. Examples of sensors include bed/chair occupancy sensors, falls monitors, door exit alarms, medication dispensers, automatic lights and smoke/flood detectors.

Telehealth - The delivery of healthcare at a distance using electronic means of communication - usually from service user to clinician e.g. a service user measuring their vital signs at home and this data being transmitted via a telehealth monitor to a clinician. Typical peripherals might include a blood pressure cuff, scales, and a pulseoximeter.


NHS podiatry services are provided free of charge on the basis of assessed clinical need, regardless of the patient's age. It is for primary care trusts in partnership with local stakeholders including practice based commissioners, local government and the public to determine how best to use their funds to meet national and local priorities for improving health and to commission services accordingly. This process provides the means for addressing local needs within the health community including the provision of podiatry services

The number of chiropodists/podiatrists in the NHS in England has increased by 513 (15.6%) since 1997 to 3,799 in 2007

The numbers of chiropodists/podiatrists in training has increased by 37 (9%) since 1998-99, when training figures on this staff group were first collected


In 2005 milestones were set to reduce waits for audiology assessments to a maximum of 13 weeks (by March 2007) and to 6 weeks (by March 2008).

Data for March 08 show that the vast majority of patients receive their audiology assessment within six weeks. In the two years since we started collecting this data, there has been a 97% reduction in the number of patients waiting longer than six weeks.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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