Northern Ireland is growing older, with life expectancy increasing faster than ever before. But what does this mean when it comes to caring for older people? agendaNI speaks to the Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, on our ageing population and his view on what needs to be done to improve care services for older people.
How can health and social care services in Northern Ireland cope better with the demands of a growing and ageing population?
One of the biggest challenges facing government today is the need to adequately prepare for ageing in a way which ensures older people are enabled to live independent and dignified lives for as long as possible.
People are living longer but these added years are not necessarily being lived in good health. Many older people are living with multiple conditions, some of which require them to see GPs or visit hospital or may require them to have care and support to enable them to live at home, for example, those who are living at home with dementia. We know dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is increasing and in Northern Ireland alone there are 20,000 people living with this disease and that is only set to increase. Although the health system knows older people want and need more social and healthcare support at home, it has yet to demonstrate the agility to be able to meet these demands.
What are the HSC issues which older people come to you for help with?
For the last number of years my office has been experiencing a steady stream of concerns about accessing care and support in a timely manner, the quality of care and treatment in care home settings and the reaction of the HSC system when things go wrong.
Have you seen any improvement since you were appointed in 2016?
I know that thousands of older people receive great care every day, but I find myself in 2019 still reiterating calls for change which my predecessor made as far back as 2014, for example the call for an Adult Safeguarding Bill. I believe that the introduction of such legislation would drive the change needed to improve the real lived experience of some of Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable older people.
What is your view on the technical advances in terms of connected health use of digital devices?
I’m impressed by many of the e-health initiatives I see and the potential use of technology in health and social care. But our challenge is to deliver services to older people living with health conditions but who are dis-connected from their families or communities. I’ve learned a lot from older people this year about how and why loneliness is becoming one of the big challenges for us as a society. This is a complex issue that cannot be fixed through prescriptions or pills. Technological advances can enhance care but should not be viewed as a replacement for human contact in healthcare.
What do you think would lead to real improvement in care services for older people?
We can’t talk about planning the delivery of better services for our ageing population if we don’t have a strong grip on what it will cost. Therefore, I believe that we need government to organise an independent review of the ‘real cost of care’ as a matter of urgency. Only when that cost is understood will it be possible to examine changes needed in public health and social policy to really adequately plan for the future.
For more information on The Commissioner for Older People visit:
T: 028 90890 892