A future to age well in?

By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Lead

Have you ever stopped to wonder if enough is being done to look after us all in old age?

Admittedly it is not the sort of question most of us consider until we reach older age ourselves and realise that we need a bit more support to do the things we used to.

Tens of millions of pounds are being spent around the country in an attempt to learn what is needed, when it is needed and how it should be delivered, and most of it is funded by the Big Lottery Community Fund.

Ageing Well Torbay is just one of 14 projects around the country that is using what is called test and learn techniques to see what works, and just as importantly what doesn’t when it comes to reducing isolation and loneliness in the over the 50’s.

It is an odd concept, but in a test and learn environment, things are allowed to fail – as long as everyone learns the lessons from it, and that is why all the information from all the projects is being collated at a national level.

Whilst it is not Government funded – if you play the lottery, then you are helping to fund it – the messages are being passed back to the Parliament to allow them to plan for the future. Or at least that is the theory.

I make no political point here, but I was taken aback to read the other week that the NHS is not yet recruiting in preparation for the inevitable – the inevitable time when the ageing population will outstrip the younger ones.

In Torbay that will be sooner rather than later potentially putting a huge burden on all public services, the GP’s (numbers of which are falling) and the National Health Service – doctors and nurses that are already under immense pressure.

If media reports are to be believed (and who knows who or what to believe in this post truth world) exhausted doctors and nurses are already being driven out of the NHS because of a failure to plan for an ageing population.

And that is now. Today. What of the future?

Nationally the NHS employs 1.3 million people but has about 100,000 vacancies and that is continuing to rise because of uncertainties over Brexit.

It is important therefore that projects like Ageing Well Torbay continue to engage directly with the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust to ensure that we are all doing as much as we can for a healthy, happy ageing populus.

Many lessons have already been learned and our wellbeing coordinators that were piloted with Age UK Torbay are now funded by the NHS and whilst a figure cannot be put to it, are probably around saving millions of pounds through their innovative approach.

We will also shortly see the launch of the Torbay Over 50’s Assembly who will engage directly with public bodies, including the NHS to ensure their wisdom and hard learned insights into ageing through experience are passed on.

Ageing is not a problem, it is an opportunity, but only if it is embraced by everyone as such and that means everyone working together – young included, because it will apply to them one day, sooner than they think.

A great deal of work has been done all around the country to combat isolation and loneliness in the over 50’s and the results have been staggering with reduced hospital and GP visits saving the taxpayers a fortune.

But it is more than money, it is about health, it is about wellbeing, it is about happiness and all those things are at stake unless we all keep our focus firmly on the future.

As public funding remains squeezed and in the main focussed in other key areas, then the voluntary sector has had to step up to help fill in the gaps – or in some cases improve upon what has gone before.

Across the country:

  • Over 60,000 people aged 50+ from diverse backgrounds have engaged with the programme, with many participants reporting that their lives have improved, they feel less isolated and are more socially connected
  • The capacity of the voluntary sector in funded areas to design, deliver and commission services for people aged over 50.
  • 13,000 volunteering opportunities have been created.These volunteers have contributed a total of 14,678 hours, equating to just under 2,000 working days so far.

It goes without saying that there is much more to come. Ageing is not someone else’s problem, it is not something that will only happen to someone else, it is something we all need to embrace positively as it will ultimately happen to us all.