Viewpoint: The impact of Britain’s ageing population on local authorities

This week is Hospice Care Week. In our guest Viewpoint spot Robert Melnitschuk, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Help the Hospices, the national hospice care charity, highlights the key role for local authorities in end of life care.

Is end of life care a priority in your local area?

I hope so, but if not, it is set to become much more important in the future because of Britain’s changing demographics.

Demand for end of life care is fast growing, largely due Britain’s ageing population, as we all live longer, often with chronic, complex health conditions.

The number of people aged over 85 alone is set to double within the next 20 years and the number of centenarians will increase more than eightfold in 2035.

These projections will have implications for many organisations, particularly local authorities which are taking on increasing responsibility for end of life care in their local communities, as highlighted in a report by the LGiU last December.

Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) – which are run by local authorities – were established under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. They provide a vital forum where key leaders from the health and care system can work together to understand their local community’s needs, agree priorities and encourage commissioners to work in a more co-ordinated way.

Local authorities could have a key role to play in bringing together local partners, including hospices, to build a shared, strategic approach to the care needs of their local populations and help deliver this in a more joined up way.

Hospices are in a prime position to support this collaborative, localist approach, as both leading providers of health and social care and “community hubs” with strong links to their local communities, particularly through fundraising and volunteering.

Encouragingly, there are some signs of strong emerging local partnerships between hospices and local authorities.

For example, one of our member hospices in London sits on its Health and Wellbeing Board (HWB) as a key voluntary sector representative.

Other hospices in cities including London and Portsmouth are working closely with local authority social care staff to develop their knowledge and confidence when working with people with terminal illness and life-limiting conditions.

Further partnership working has taken place between hospices and their local authorities across the country to ensure that new services, such as domiciliary care agencies, add value to local service provision.

However, much more still needs to be done at local level to raise awareness about the importance of end of life care.  In a survey about commissioning carried out earlier this year by Help the Hospices, only 37 per cent of respondents said they thought palliative/ end of life care was a priority for their HWB. A further 32 per cent said it was a low priority, or not on the HWB’s agenda at all.

During our annual awareness-raising week – Hospice Care Week (October 7- 13), we are encouraging members of the public to contact their HWBs. We will be asking what they are doing locally to help ensure hospice and end of life services are available to everybody in the local area and also how they are involving local people in these decisions.

Too many people currently do not get the care at the end of life that they want or need, whilst the numbers needing such care continue to increase. This urgently needs to change.

For further information visit:  http://www.hospicecareweek.org.uk/

This Viewpoint was written by Robert Melnitschuk, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Help the Hospices, the national hospice care charity.

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