Paying for an ageing society

THE reason school standards remain so questionable is because Ministers have been obsessed with policy upheavals, many of which have been driven by vanity, rather than ensuring than ensuring that all children can read and write from an early age.

The same criticism can be equally levelled against health policy. The appointment of every new Health Secretary – and Andrew Lansley, the current incumbent, is no exception – triggers yet another NHS shake-up.

Next year will see the coalition press ahead with plans pass sweeping financial powers to GPs because Mr Lansley believes that doctors should have a greater say over the allocation of resources. Yet, before this process begins, he should be explaining, precisely, the type of National Health Service that patients should expect in a decade's time –and how care will be funded to take account of an ageing society.

For, as today's figures about the soaring costs of long-term care in Yorkshire reveal, there needs to be a major appraisal about the long-term treatment of senior citizens afflicted by dementia, strokes and such like. This is borne out by eight out of this region's 14 primary care trusts confirming that they will exceed their care budgets because of the increased demands of patients.

PCTs, contrary to popular perception, have virtually no scope for efficiency savings – the familiar mantra of Ministers when challenged over spending.

These are the bodies that are due to be abolished in April 2013 when Mr Lansley's plans take effect, with spending responsibilities passing to GPs who are likely to spend more time, as a result, on accountancy matters than general practice.

There are no easy answers. It's one reason why New Labour allowed long-term policy to drift, while raising budgets.

But, with the NHS now compromised by inflationary pressures, the difficulties already being encountered will be exacerbated unless Ministers set clear rules on the treatment that patients can expect, and how well-founded concerns about the financial implications can be allayed.