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NHS must change

The UK Department of Health has revealed that national healthcare systems will struggle to support an ageing population and must undergo radical change
The UK Department of Health has revealed that national healthcare systems will struggle to support an ageing population and must undergo radical change.

If current trends continue, a quarter of the entire adult population will be over the age of 65 and the number of people over 85 will have doubled in 20 years' time. According to the Department of Health, the increase in life expectancy will lead to a rise in the number of people requiring care and support, which could put tremendous pressure on NHS services and finances.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said that funding and improvements to existing services are vital if the NHS is going to be able to provide critical services to patients with chronic or ongoing health problems.

"Society is going through huge change - care and support must adapt to meet the challenges this will bring because the current system is simply not sustainable in the long term," said Johnson. "There is no option of a quick fix."

A new report, Leading Local Change, drafted by health minister, Lord Darzi, states that the NHS must not cower away from necessary changes, which could save lives. Darzi, the UK's leading clinician, stipulated that a rigorous system of checks must be in place to ensure any changes provide a substantial benefit for patient care.

The health minister said existing services should be left operational as new ones come into effect, so patients can judge form themselves the difference and improvement in quality. Having identical departments running at the same time will, however, see the Department of Health incur double-running costs.

"This is not about change for change's sake," said Darzi. "The nature of healthcare means services will always need to change and sometimes that means re-organising how services are provided."

Under Darzi's vision for NHS reform, existing services could face closure as hospital departments are merged. Coverage of the story in the national press said that the plans could spark a summer-long campaign of protests by ministers opposed to the closures and changes, similar to ones held in 2007 to save NHS facilities in the UK.

One idea being tested is a £31m pilot programme of new technologies, such as telecare, that will be rolled out in Kent, Cornwall and Newham. Johnson said that the schemes are designed to help those with complex and long-term medical problems stay in contact with their healthcare providers, alleviating the strain on overcrowded hospital wards.

12th May 2008

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