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Alan Hamilton - Author & Editor

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The old man and The NHS

An awful lot more of us around – and we're older
The UK population reached 65.6 million in 2016 and twenty-five years on it's projected to be 74 million. In the past ten years (to 2014) the population increased by just under three-and=three-quarter million, a rate of around 0.7% per year, twice as fast as the rest of Europe as a whole. As of last year (2017) almost one in five were 65 or older and two in every hundred over 85. Twenty-five years on, the population is for almost one in four to be 65 or over. These numbers form the background to any thoughts we may have about our relationship with the NHS as we grow older. Older – and less healthy

 

But the sheer numbers aren't the whole story. People in their seventies and older are more likely than their juniors to be involved with the NHS from visits to their GP for chronic ailments to hospitalisation for and following medical interventions.

 

In an earlier post I mentioned the anecdote according to my GP's staff that many of the 'elderly' visit the doctor mainly because it provides a focus in otherwise lonely lives, even though the medical problems they may have are slight. But age catches up with almost all of us. Most of us have not lived, and do not live now, healthy lives. We eat a great deal of processed food, drink more alcohol than is good for us, many of us smoked as younger adults if not for longer, and we don't exercise regularly.

 

We experience the consequences as arthritic joints, overweight and breathing problems, diabetes, back pain, and cancers. Where our health is seriously damaged and our ability to look after ourselves or be looked-after by someone of the same age is virtually non-existent even where we have recovered from what we were hospitalised for, we cannot be discharged – another bed in a ward that is not available for another patient.

 

The future doesn't look too good for us 'oldies'
If the tendency is for people to live even longer than they do now (and this may not be the case in every part of the country – there are areas where life expectation may no longer be increasing owing to lifestyles and living conditions) then the weight bearing down on the provision of health-related services to the elderly can only increase perhaps to the point where the NHS cannot cope or has to make decisions as to the treatment of younger and potentially more valuable members of society rather than of the elderly and economically spent.

 

I don't think we should be under any illusion that sometime in the near future this will not and cannot happen, nor that there won't be a reaction from the declining number of working age who have to carry the ever-growing burden of the old.

 

How it's been for me
My own NHS experiences as I have grown older have, however, been ones to look back on with gratitude and affection. I have tried – and still do – to live in a way that lessens my likelihood of 'bothering' the service. Since the mid-1980s I have been a 'late onset' diabetic and insulin-dependent since 2001.

 

I do my best to keep the condition under control and have been rewarded by encouragement and close care by all those in the NHS from the clinics my surgery nurses provide to the regular screening for retinopathy.

 

In 2014, aged 78, I developed cancer of the bowel. The response of the health professionals was exemplary, and in the weeks I spent in hospital due to the original operation and the complications that set in afterwards, I experienced something close to love (in the Pauline sense of the word, 'caritas'). But I also recall patients on the same ward, younger than me, who never ceased to moan, complain, and demand.

 

More recently, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, I had some kind of viral attack on the muscles of my lower body and upper legs. I got nothing but concern from the GPs and specialists I had to see to deal with it, and a genuine and heart-warming attempt to alleviate it.
I've probably been lucky and my experience of the NHS has never been anything like the picture I get from the national news media – which does not refrain, and never has, from giving the public all the bad news, encouraging it to complain and expect the worst.
Next up in this ongoing blog

 

In my next post I'll look at income and expenditure as it affects the older person and also touch on the economic – and therefore social – impact the elderly have on the rest of UK society.

 

Comments welcome.

What do you think?

My 7th blog about growing old....