New fears over care of elderly

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GEORGE OSBORNE will inevitably use today’s Autumn Statement to make a virtue of his much-trailed decision to allocate an extra £2bn a year to the National Health Service thanks to his astute management of the economy.

Yet the Chancellor’s bullishness does need to be accompanied by the proverbial health warning ahead of his speech this lunchtime. For, while few will begrudge the NHS receiving additional funding, they will want guarantees that this money is spent on frontline care rather than the management of hospitals – a critical difference.

And it would be short-sighted of Mr Osborne, as members of the Cabinet take part in a special initiative to make them more aware about the plight of dementia sufferers, to ignore the growing financial crisis afflicting the home care system which is predominantly funded by local councils.

A review by former Minister Paul Burstow has concluded that the system is teetering on the brink of collapse because of organisational failings. Not only are there countless incidents when the most vulnerable people see a different carer every week rather than enjoying some continuity and the reassurance that this can often provide, but many frail individuals are being forced to stay even longer in hospital because there is inadequate support for them in the community.

This state of affairs will only continue to deteriorate until the Government is in a position to address these frailties in home care. Today’s Autumn Statement is an opportunity to put down a significant marker for the future.

For, as Mr Osborne should know by now, a measure of a civilised society is how well it looks after its most vulnerable members – and that includes those unfortunate people whose wellbeing depends on the effective management of this Cinderella service.

Birth controls

Mothers-to-be deserve choice

THERE WILL be an element of surprise about the conclusion, by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, that expectant mothers are better off giving birth at home – or in a midwife-led centre – rather than in hospital.

Yet, while the quality of care offered by the region’s maternity units has not been called into doubt, the health advisory body has identified instances where expectant mothers are persuaded to undergo a caesarean, often against their wishes.

It appears there is evidence to suggest that doctors have been coming under pressure to progress slow labours before completing the end of their shift rather than allowing nature to take its course.

This is disappointing. Childbirth should be natural and the needs, and wishes, of the parents-to-be should take precedence over the convenience of blasé medical staff.

It is also important that Nice’s latest medical guidance does not, inadvertently or otherwise, force expectant mothers to give birth at home when they – and their partners – might prefer the reassurance of a hospital setting and the medical expertise that should be available round-the-clock.

Though Nice does recommend one-to-one care for all mothers-to-be, a move which is likely to be welcomed by the midwifery profession who have complained about a national shortage of qualified staff, the most important word of all is “choice”.

A concept which goes to the heart of the Government’s public service reforms, it now needs to underpin the changes that are likely to be implemented following this report.

A game of truce

Football can be force for good

THE SYMBOLISM will be striking when the British Army’s footballers take on their German counterparts to mark the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce. If only this brief ceasefire in hostilities had held in 1914. Yet it will also serve as a poignant reminder that football – and other sports for that matter – can be a force for good in contemporary society. Just look at how the local leagues across Yorkshire bring disparate communities together.

It is just a shame that many of today’s mega-rich Premier League players continue to give football a bad name, whether it be Raheem Sterling missing an England game because of tiredness or the insensitive tweets of Mario Ballotelli who has become a one-man public relations disaster. As such, it can only be hoped that this commemorative game reminds such footballers of their good fortune, and how their actions can make a positive difference. The enduring sadness is that this is probably a forlorn wish.