New research released from WRVS, the UK’s largest charity delivering preventative care for older people, shows that services older people believe are crucial to their well-being are suffering as a result of government cuts across the country and creating greater pressures on the health service.
These findings are likely to spark immense concern across Britain’s older community, as the evidence mounts up that the withdrawal of key services designed to prevent health problems amongst older people is contributing to greater pressures on hospital beds. Delays in people being discharged from hospital are now 12,433 above the level since the introduction of the public spending cuts. Cutting the number of older people admitted to hospital could save the health service £2 billion a year.
Shaping Our Age is the most in-depth research project of its kind and investigates the current provision of services for older people in the UK. 2011 marks the first year of a three-year study funded by the Big Lottery, and this year’s research is based on qualitative responses from individuals from across the UK representing older people from all walks of life. Against a backdrop of increasing concern about the delivery of public services to Britain’s aging population, this study examines older peoples’ views about the scope, quality, availability and importance of public services for older people.
The Shaping Our Age study shows:
- Social interaction is cited as being one of the most important factors to improved well-being and quality of life, but older people are feeling more isolated as services become increasingly remote – for instance as services move online, or as local facilities close.
- There is a tangible impact on older people, the wider community and the UK economy as a result of cuts to public services designed to prevent older people from being isolated, such as day centres and befriending services (eg organised shopping trips, exercise classes, or specialist one-to-one support during times of change or difficulty).
- The level of practical support available to older people to enable them to continue living in their own home is not sufficient, and there is a need for greater access to support at critical times, such as following bereavement.
- There are significant failings in hospital care for older people – poor treatment from hospital staff, poor hospital hygiene and low disability awareness.
- The lack of dignity and respect exposed in hospital care is now being seen in other public services, such as GP surgeries – there is evidence that unacceptable older people’s care is present throughout the public sector, which is sparking concern about the quality of public services more broadly.
"The Shaping Our Age study confirms what older people across the country have told WRVS’ 40,000 volunteers for some time – that overcoming loneliness and isolation is one of the most important aspects to maintaining or improving quality of life. It adds to the weight of evidence which shows that loneliness is a genuine health risk and if undetected, can lead to expensive and avoidable stays in hospital. Isolated older people are more vulnerable to returning to accident and emergency departments after a spell in hospital, are more likely to suffer from depression which in turn can lead to physical health problems. This simply cannot continue. We are sharing our evidence with local authorities across the country demonstrating that preventative services are good value for taxpayer and good for older people and their families.
"We urge ministers to hold local decision-makers to account to protect vital public services from further spending cuts and to invest in preventative support services that reduce isolation and loneliness."
David McCullough, WRVS Chief Executive
"The older people involved in the Shaping Our Age project highlight that the biggest thing that supports their well-being is having social contact and relationships. Instead of closing down day services and meals on wheels for older people, the government must develop the twenty-first century versions of these crucial services to meet the growing number of older people's needs and support their future well-being.
Professor Peter Beresford OBE,
Professor of Social Policy and Director of The Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University