At the poorly advertised and signposted hospital cuts consultation drop in at Hebden Bridge Town Hall on 5th April – where very few people turned up, unsurprisingly – Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group staff were trotting out the usual spin about the reasons for the cuts (which they said aren’t cuts, but “rationalisation”).
The most commonly stated justification was that the aging population is costing the NHS so much money that there’s not enough to carry on without cuts – or rationalisation, as they were calling it.
This is one of the many examples of SPIN in the consultation document: that the demographic timebomb of the aging baby boomer generation is about to blow our NHS out of the water, with:
“many more people living longer often with long term illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and chronic chest problems and more with dementia.”(“Have Your Say” Consultation Document, page 7, more on p8)
FACT: This is a zombie policy – the health care costs associated with an aging population account for a small proportion of NHS spending and are not set to increase drastically.
Healthy life expectancy – the number of years a person on average can expect to be in good health – has increased. This means the extra years of life will not necessarily be in poor health, and will therefore not cost more to provide healthcare.
The policy survives because policy makers persist in accepting its false premise. The mechanism for promoting this zombie policy is through an abuse of statistics that rely on simple population projections, assume the connection between aging and costs and chronic illnesses and fail to factor in that people are living longer, healthier and more productive lives.
This misuse of statistics is one of the roots of NHS England’s July 2013 warning of a funding gap ‘of around £30 billion between 2013-14 and 2020-21’, which is now being used to justify the Calderdale & Huddersfield hospital cuts.
Health spending projections from a House of Lords select committee, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Nuffield Trust and the Institute for Fiscal Studies similarly all ignored data about increased healthy life expectancy and made the false assumption that aging is a main driver of cost rises.
Politicians and policy makers use the myth of the aging population as a cover for poor policy decisions – namely, using precious public funds to bail out the banks at the expense of paying for care.
Far from increasing, the amount spent on social care services for older people has fallen nationally by £1.4 billion (8.0%) from 2010-11 to 2012-13. The number of people receiving state-funded care fell from 1.8 million in 2008-9 to 1.3 million in 2012-13.
The 65+ generation are net contributors to the UK public purse by £36.6bn/year. They are not a burden on society or the NHS.