I believe one of the biggest challenges that the NHS is likely to face in the coming years will be how we are to look after our growing elderly population with dignity and respect.
It was, therefore, with great interest I read the comments of the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, outline the important role that he feels can be played by the GP. He said: “rediscovering the traditional role of the family doctor would be critical” in this respect.
Only by restoring the role of the family doctor, clinically accountable for the vulnerable older people on their lists, will we ensure that people are looked after better in their homes rather than constantly having to be rushed to hospital when things go wrong. When that happens, we not only place them in a bewildering and confusing environment, we also place huge pressure on A & E departments.
Proactive case management is a role many GPs already perform and all aspire to. Tragically, Labour’s 2004 changes to the GP contract made it much harder, removing responsibility for out-of-hours care and replacing personal accountability for patients with a series of boxes to tick and process targets to meet. GPs are working just as hard, in fairness, but are often left unable to focus on what matters most - making sure all their most needy patients have proper, integrated care and support.
Jeremy Hunt went on to say: “I want all vulnerable older patients to have a named clinician accountable for all their care outside hospital in the same way that they have a named consultant responsible for them inside hospital. A frail elderly patient should have a GP who knows them, understands their needs, and is responsible for follow up and support after they leave hospital.
“GPs won’t personally deliver every element of care, but they should surely be the person with whom the buck stops. And indeed that kind of trust and responsibility is precisely what motivated them to go into General Practice in the first place.”
As a councillor for the Hipperholme and Lightcliffe ward that has a higher than normal percentage of elderly residents, I, like Jeremy Hunt, want to see the NHS rise to the challenge of caring for these residents with the dignity and compassion that they deserve.