The age old story
- Credit: Archant
As Norfolk’s population ages, Mark Nicholls looks at the challenges in supporting the growing number of older people living in the county
The demographic of the nation is changing rapidly; we are getting older. Improved living conditions and diet, better medical care and healthier lifestyles mean people are living longer than ever. It is a national trend, yet here in Norfolk this process is happening quicker than elsewhere.
Norfolk’s population is about 880,000, up 7.6pc since 2004 but in that time while numbers of children and young people in the county rose marginally and there was a small increase of about 20,000 in working age adults (aged 18-64), numbers of over-65s increased by around 39,200 (23.6pc).
Data from Norfolk County Council’s Norfolk Insight bureau reveals the county has a much older age profile than England as a whole, with 23.4pc of Norfolk’s population aged 65 and over, compared with 17.6pc in England. That is placing ever greater demand on health and social care services and care and residential home places, at a time that public sector budgets are under immense strain, GP vacancies are unfilled, and the lines between health and social care are being blurred.
Against this backdrop of growing challenges for those delivering services and care, Norfolk has a Living Longer, Living Well document produced by the Norfolk Older People’s Strategic Partnership Board, an independent body set up to help ensure the county’s significant population of older people leads independent and fulfilling lives for as long as possible and get the services they need to realise that.
Partnership board chairman Graham Creelman (pictured) says: “The major factor is the sheer volume of the ageing population of people in Norfolk. It has been growing faster than most of the rest of the country, while at the same time there is just not enough public money in the system to provide a historic level of care older people need.”
The board, which also scrutinises the quality and availability of services for older people when they can no longer live independently, is made up of representatives from the seven district Older People’s Forums and other older people’s organisations; Norfolk County Council’s Adult Social Services and the NHS; councils, voluntary organisations and the private care sector. This is the fourth edition of the strategy highlighting issues affecting older people, such as information and advice, transport and housing.
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Graham says three issues stand out: How to get the best possible information and advice; how people can move around in a largely rural county to get to services and have a social life; and loneliness and isolation.
He explains: “People are living longer, but what often happens is that one partner is a carer for the other and caring for that partner is their life. But when that person dies the infrastructure of support disappears.
“We also have a large number of people who have to come to Norfolk to retire - often near the coast - and they have no infrastructure of family or friends around them.”
Recent council tax rises have been made to try to continue to provide vital services for older people.
“People see that transport is important and have accepted that to get a decent level of care and support for older people, they are prepared to pay more in taxes and that is a very good sign,” he adds. But to ensure services continue to be delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible, he believes a closer relationship between statutory providers of services (such as local authorities and the NHS) with the voluntary and private sectors is critical.
“There needs to be more integration, and much earlier integration and involvement, between the public, private and voluntary sectors,” he says. “A more co-ordinated approach with new models of delivering care is needed – integrated planning, integrated budgets and integrated delivery.”
Average life expectancy in Norfolk is 80.2 years for men and 83.8 for women – in line with the regional average but higher than the average for England which is 79.4 and 83.1 respectively. With Norfolk’s population projected to exceed one million by 2036, the population of over-65s will go up by 65pc in that time while the over-85 population is predicted to increase by 87pc but already about 29pc of over-65s have some level of social care need.
New models of care delivery for older people, to help overcome issues such as delayed discharge from hospital - often referred to as “bed blocking” - where patients leaving acute care have a clearer pathway to returning to a home environment are needed. That may lie in providing a halfway house between patients in hospital and going home, and seeing more managed care for people in their own homes, perhaps delivered by a team working in a specific area.
“This is happening in parts of Norfolk but there needs to be much greater collaboration,” says Graham.