I’m still very much involved in trying to save my GP practice, as you might expect. So far, so normal. What is amazing me, as I gather information and piece things together, is how far reaching this story is, how much it affects us all.
I learned yesterday, for example, that nearly 40% of my surgery’s patients are over 70 years old.
I was aware that we were an ageing population. It’s one of those bits of knowledge that swills around in people’s heads, but it doesn’t mean much until you experience it in a fairly visceral way. We are getting older, and staying older. As there are more of us anyway, this means that the number of old people is vast and getting vaster. I say this as someone who will be an old person myself one day. I have plans to be old for a very, very long time, health and health service permitting.
As it is, I am creeping up on old age, and not liking it much. My hips are packing up, I have wrinkles as well as spots, and the less said about the state of my hormones the better. The only thing I have yet to experience is luxurious facial hair.
In 2010, government statistics showed that 10 million people in the UK were aged 65 or over. Three million of them were over eighty. This number is expected to double by 2030.
The government report I read said: ‘Growing numbers of elderly people also have an impact on the NHS, where average spending for retired households is nearly double that for non-retired households.’
These figures are fairly horrifying, and they’re six years out of date already.
As we age, we wear out. Fact of life. I am not including Joan Collins in this. I think she is part vampire myself.
As we age, we need more care, and we need better care, kinder care, care that takes into account our increasing fragility and the possibility that we might wander off topic for a bit, or need to sit down more. We also need care that is not patronising and doesn’t treat us like a drivelling, dribbling, half dead moron. We need care that remembers to hydrate patients and who knows their name and family history, and has grown up and old with them so we can tell what’s senile dementia and what’s just getting a bit forgetful.
We also need accessible care. An ageing population does not necessarily tally with a more mobile population. We need care that keeps people close to those they love, that allows them home visits rather than carting them off to somewhere far away where they might feel unsafe and disconnected. We also need local surgeries that are accessible on foot if necessary.
I know these things are probably a dream, but there are areas, my area for example, where this is happening. This is real. This kind of care is available, and it is about to be taken away. It is going to be taken away from 40% of the patients at my surgery. I have no idea of the demographics of the previous two surgeries in my area that shut down in the last few weeks, but even if it’s only 10%, that’s more and more elderly people that will struggle to get the care they need and deserve.
Getting old is no joke. Let’s not make it harder for people. Let’s not isolate people and make them struggle more. Where’s the care there?
The continued and forced closure of local surgeries, either through a failure to act, a failure to help, or a blind eye when help is needed, means that these problems, like the problems of ageing themselves, are only going to grow.
It makes me sad.