SHOCK AND DISBELIEF AT COMMENTS ATTRIBUTED TO NHS ENGLAND CHIEF EXECUTIVE SIMON STEVENS
A mixture of shock and disbelief has swept the long term care sector since NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens is reported to have told an Age UK conference that he would be disappointed if nursing homes still existed fifty years from now.
Responding to Mr Stevens’ ‘bombshell’, Registered Nursing Home Association (RNHA) chief executive officer Frank Ursell said the comments came like a bolt out of the blue and flew in the face of projected demographic trends and future care needs.
Said Mr Ursell: “Whilst it is to be hoped that improved community services will provide enhanced support to older people living in their own homes, a massive increase in the number of people living beyond the age of 85 in the next 15 to 20 years will undoubtedly create pressure for more nursing home beds.
“There are inevitably limits on what can be achieved in caring for individuals with multiple and complex health needs in their own homes,” he said. “Nursing homes represent a cost-effective alternative to hospital. And for many people who come into our care, the nursing home environment offers a welcome change to the sense of isolation they experienced when living alone.”
He added: “From Mr Stevens’ comments I suspect that he may not understand the intensity of typical nursing home patients’ needs. Those of us who have been working in this field for thirty or more years have seen a step change in dependency levels over that period and I believe this trend is likely to continue in the years ahead.
“Even with improvements in technology and drugs, it is difficult to see how Mr Stevens’ vision of a nursing home-free future could come to pass. Assuming that his comments have been accurately reported, it sounds more like wishful thinking on his part – for whatever reason – rather than a carefully thought through model of care for half a century from now.”
Mr Ursell also contrasted Mr Stevens’ hope that nursing homes will disappear with government policy as enshrined in the Care Act that has just gone through Parliament.
He said: “Unless Mr Stevens knows something the rest of us don’t know about the government’s long-term intentions on health and social care, the Care Act appears to be calling for local authorities to work with providers in the independent sector, including nursing homes, in developing an effective market for the delivery of adult social care.
“Given the alarm that Mr Stevens has caused, I am sure the thousands of nursing home staff who are striving to deliver high quality services round the clock to some of the country’s most vulnerable older citizens would like to know what the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health think about his remarks.
“Do David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt consider us to be a historical anachronism destined for the scrap heap, as Mr Stevens appears to think? Or do they regard us as a valuable and appreciated resource for ensuring that frail and highly dependent older people are properly cared for without the need for them to go into an acute hospital?”
Mr Ursell concluded: “We want to continue to improve the care we provide to patients and to work in partnership with NHS hospitals and primary care services in doing this. We believe that we can learn from our NHS colleagues and that they can also learn from our experience in looking after older people. We very much hope that we are entering a period of increased collaboration across organisational boundaries, not a period when the drawbridge across the NHS moat is about to be lifted.”