THERE will be a crisis in health funding caused by the ageing population unless urgent action is taken, it has been warned.
The number of people over the age of 85 in the county is predicted to increase by 168 per cent between 2011 and 2035, from 14,683 to 39,400.
But at the same time, adult social care funding from Oxfordshire County Council and health funding from Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) is being cut by millions.
The county’s director of public health, Dr Jonathan McWilliam, has described the situation as the number one challenge facing the health service. But others say the ageing population is a “time bomb”, and unless urgent action is taken there will be a funding crisis.
Dr McWilliam has set out his plans for tackling the problem, which include pooling county council and OCCG budgets and more reliance on volunteers, in his sixth public health report.
Critics say keeping the health service afloat is a simple choice — increase taxes or find more volunteers.
The future of adult social care finances was described bleakly in a report, known as The Graph of Doom, published by Barnet Council, London, in 2011. It showed that if the trend continues, the entire council budget will be spent on adult social care and children’s services by 2025.
Dr McWilliam said: “Nobody knows what is going to happen but that is one possible model and it is a national problem. It is not just Oxfordshire.
“We have to make every pound of public money go further.
“The only way of doing that is acting in co-operation with the voluntary sector and carers much more closely and finding new ways of doing things.”
The main recommendation in his report, which has just been implemented, was to pool the council’s adult social care budget and OCCG’s community health budget to stop duplications.
Both parties also agreed to put more money into the pot, with County Hall adding £21m, bringing its figure to £99m, and OCCG adding £30m, up to £89m. The total budget is now £188m.
Oxfordshire Pensioners’ Action Group chairman John Mackie, 74, said: “The trouble with politicians is they get into power and they promise the earth and then at the next election you get another party take over and nothing gets completed.
“We need cross-party plans and the NHS needs more funding. “Increasing tax would be unpopular but I think it probably should be done.
“Every day there is another case of a hospital not working, and a lot of that relates to the elderly.
“It is obvious the system is broken with more to come.”
Asked if more volunteers was the answer, he said: “Where do you get the volunteers?
“Most of the volunteers you will find are probably elderly.
“The young generation has not got the dedication that the older generation has.
“Volunteers try their best but they do not have the experience needed. You really need a clinician involved.”
But Volunteer Link Up manager Pat Chirgwin said increasing the number of volunteers was the only way to tackle the issue. The Witney-based charity helps link people who need help with volunteers, and helps people travel to hospital and with gardening.
Mrs Chirgwin said: “The ageing population is a huge problem.
“Our clientele has increased by 30 per cent, if not more, over the eight years we have been open.
“We have got to get people to think it is part of their privilege of being a citizen in Oxfordshire that they should give something back.”
Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which took over from the county’s Primary Care Trust in purchasing health services on April 1, is making savings of £25.6m in its first year.
The main plan to achieve this is to avoid taking people to hospital, by treating more people in their homes, educating GPs and others about alternatives and cutting back on check-ups.
Meanwhile, the county council’s spending on adult social care increased from £129m in 2009 to £172m this year, but it plans to make £18m of savings by 2017.
The rising elderly population has also been blamed on other problems including pressure on accident and emergency units.
Voluntary sector is vital
MORE help from volunteers could be one way of coping with the ageing population.
The Elms Day Centre in Witney provides entertainment, trips and meals for elderly people during the day.
It is run by charity Leonard Cheshire Disability and volunteers help out with activities and raising money.
On Wednesday, the centre organised a trip to Yarnton Nurseries Garden Centre. Volunteers helped run the day.
The trip was funded after the Co-operative store in Witney raised money through a charity book sale.
Experts have said more volunteers will be needed to run such activities across Oxfordshire in the future.
Diabetes pair back Link Up group
Angela and Cyril Burford, 79 and 85, from Witney, both suffer from diabetes and make use of volunteers from charity Volunteer Link Up to help with almost weekly travel to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Mrs Burford, who has also had two strokes, said: “Volunteer Link Up is more than important.
“If you get a taxi from here it is £14, whereas Link Up take you there, wait for you and take you home for £4.
“We are pensioners and we haven’t got that extra money.
“It would be terrible without them because I would have to pick and choose which appointments I attended as I haven’t got that amount of money to spend on taxis.”
The grandmother, a retired cashier, said: “When we were young and we were working we were very lucky. We hardly had a cold.
“It is only in these later years as the diabetes develops we have got worse in our health and it is now we need the care.
“If it is now being cut, I really do not know what will happen to us. It’s worrying.
“I think they should consider the elderly who have contributed to the system. They are really only trying to get back what they have put in.”
She added: “I think more people should volunteer their time to help.”
Let's all aid each other
Meg Barbour, 70, from Wheatley, cared for her husband, Cedric, who died in 2004 aged 72 after suffering from dementia.
She said: “I would be a bit stupid if I didn’t think about that and it wasn’t a concern.
“I have a house, I am a widow and my kids are all doing their own thing.
“If I were to get dementia, like my husband did, I would not want my kids to look after me. I would want them to put me in a care home, and presumably my house would pay for that care.
“I just hope I can carry on as long as I can and keep myself healthy. “The way forward is the ‘Big Society’ - we look after neighbours and help each other.
“At one time people would have neighbours and talk over the fence but nowadays people go to work and shut the front door and nobody helps anyone else. We have got to be more aware of each other and help.”
But she added: “I think we could have a tax increase, but only for a specific reason.”
Getting to hospital 'could be difficult'
Carterton pensioner Jean Izzard, 78, lives alone and receives help with transport to hospital from charity Volunteer Link Up. Her partner of 33 years, George Grant, died 10 years ago and Miss Izzard, who is registered blind, does not have any family in the area.
She said: “I cannot say that I am worried at the moment but it does make you wonder what will happen to you.”
She uses taxis to travel to the town centre but cannot afford to use them to attend the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Instead she relies on volunteers to drive her there and back.
She said: “I do think more people should get involved in volunteering. You hear people saying there is nothing to do but they could volunteer.
“It is very important to help people like myself who cannot do things.
“Without Volunteer Link Up it would be pretty hard because I couldn’t go to the hospital.
“I thought the National Health Service would be there from birth until death, but that isn’t now always the case.”
THE recommendations of Dr Jonathan McWilliam:
- Introduce one pooled budget between Oxfordshire County Council and Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group by October 2013. This budget should bring together the council’s adult social care resources and the commissioning group’s community health resources.
- The Health and Wellbeing Board should be re-designed to oversee the management of this money. The use of the cash should be guided by a single plan, agreed by both parties, and driven by revamped targets and outcome measures.
- By 2014, local authorities, the commissioning group, Age UK and carer, voluntary and faith representatives should create proposals to tackle loneliness. This should be overseen by the Health and Social Care Board.