The vicious circle between poverty, health inequality and disability is strengthened by limiting access to rehabilitation based on the ability to pay, CSP chief executive Karen Middleton told Age UK’s conference on later life.
‘Making paying for rehabilitation the only way to get the support you need is not acceptable,’ she told the event in London on 5 September.
‘It is no better than making chemotherapy or a heart bypass contingent on your ability to pay. But, somehow, when it comes to rehab and reablement, that’s okay.'
She described the healthcare system as this nation’s best achievement, but one that had to be protected.
Its successes include a doubling of the number of people who survive stroke over the past 20 years and a doubling of those who survive cancer the past 40 years.
But she told delegates that the NHS often failed to support recovery by providing rehabilitation to enable people to survive with a good quality of life.
She emphasised that there were some brilliant rehabilitation services, the problem was that they were not consistent, nor universal.
‘If you have lung disease, pulmonary rehab significantly cuts the risk of an exacerbation or going back into hospital, and it halves the time you spend in a hospital bed if you are an inpatient, she said.
‘However, 60 per cent of all the patients who should be receiving pulmonary rehabilitation are never, ever referred.’
She gave similar examples for other conditions, including stroke where people have a 50/50 chance of rehabilitation.
‘It’s not surprising that 40 per cent of people who survive a stroke feel abandoned when they return home,’ she said.
The government has asked NHS England to create a long-term plan for how it will use increases in health service funding, which begin in 2019/20.
Ms Middleton said the plan was an opportunity to improve the way money was distributed across the health system, arguing that a far greater proportion of NHS resources must be directed to services outside hospital.
‘For now, savings from the rationalisation of acute hospitals must be invested in community services, not poured into debts created by private finance initiatives,’ she said.
‘Redrawing the picture is not only realistic, but a financial imperative for the health system. The pressures on the most expensive parts of the NHS and social care are spiralling as a result of our failure to provide rehabilitation in the community.’
Earlier in the day, and eight months after being appointed English health and care minister, Caroline Dinenage, spoke about a new focus on prevention in her department.
The government is preparing a green paper on social care setting out its proposals for reform. The publication deadline is this autumn. However, when Channel Four News correspondent Victoria MacDonald, who introduced the minister, asked for a guarantee that the deadline would be met, Ms Dinenage replied that this was ‘the aspiration’.
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