January 21: Crisis facing family carers

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MORE RESEARCH published today into the difficulties of caring for elderly relatives will strike a resounding chord with countless families.

According to details released by the healthcare provider, Bupa, adults in Yorkshire now live an average of 74 miles, or a two-hour drive, from their parents, making it increasingly difficult to check on their health and to research care options.

This growing distance between family members is, of course, an inevitable effect of modern lifestyles and it is pointless to speculate about turning the clock back to a golden age when mum and dad lived round the corner.

But given that another feature of modern life is that we are all living far longer and therefore developing more and more long-term health conditions that need careful managing, it is crucial that the care system is able to cope.

After all, there is already far too great a reliance on Britain’s unsung army of carers who dedicate their lives to ensuring that their family members are looked after at home, thereby saving the NHS a vast amount of money.

Add to that the growing number of people who live too far away to keep a proper check on elderly family members and it is clear that the NHS has a task that, at present, is too great for it to cope with.

Indeed, as Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, says, the health service is not fit for the future and must change.

Although he has not yet said what form these changes should take, it is increasingly clear that they must involve an overhaul of social care to ensure that more patients can be properly looked after at home rather than taking up hospital beds.

How this could be achieved without piling yet more pressure on overstretched families, however, is a question that no one has yet answered convincingly.

Medical milestone

Hope is born out of tragedy

THE RATE at which medical advances are being made, despite piling further pressures on the NHS, surely gives hope that – if the health service can only sort out its financing and organisation – the future for patients could be a golden one indeed.

In an operation that would once have been all but unthinkable, surgeons at Hammersmith Hospital in West London have carried out Britain’s first organ transplant from a newborn baby.

Everything about this remarkable, yet also tragic, case must have been carried out with the greatest delicacy, starting with the surgeons’ conversations with the parents of the infant donor, a baby girl who died after only six days of life.

Indeed, admiration for the courage of these parents, who had the vision to see beyond their own personal tragedy and to realise that their baby could bring hope to other sufferers, knows no bounds.

Credit, too, of course, to the surgical team that carried out the intricate work, led by Dr Gaurav Atreja who has stressed his hopes that neonatal units across the country will look to build on this achievement.

And the fact that infant organ donations can be used to benefit those of all ages makes it imperative that current restrictive guidelines governing the diagnosis of brain-stem death in very young children are overhauled so that as many patients as possible can be helped by these new techniques.

So fast is medical science advancing that rules and regulations are often left trailing in its wake. But surely this is one instance where they must catch up as quickly as possible.

Peak practice

Police move with the times

those traditionalists plunged into despair at the news that West Yorkshire Police will no longer wear helmets for standard duties, replacing them with peaked caps, can comfort themselves with the knowledge that it could have been far worse.

When North Wales Police made a similar decision, they opted for baseball caps, a move that proved so unpopular with the public that the new headwear lasted only four years before being removed for good.

Surely, however, no one can believe that West Yorkshire’s decision heaps similar indignity upon the heads of its own officers. On the contrary, it represents a sensible response to the demands of modern policing for which the traditional headwear was proving increasingly cumbersome and impractical.

For any police force, it is results rather than appearances that are all important and, in this, it can only be hoped that West Yorkshire has given itself a head start.