Pensioners' Parliament Report

A 27 strong group from North Staffordshire came with us to this annual event at Blackpool form 13th—17th June this year.  Here, members report on two of the sessions from the Parliament.

 Report from Ann Capewell who attended the meeting

‘Pensions, Intergenerational Fairness and the Baby Boomers.’

Contrary to the view expressed in the media and by politicians, older people have not escaped austerity.  Changes to the indexation of pensions and freeze to personal tax allowances have reduced the purchasing power of their income in the last five years, whilst severe cuts to social care budgets have left almost a million pensioners coping at home without any formal support.

Older people make a huge financial and social contribution to the life of the nation even after the state has paid pensions, healthcare and other benefits.  Pensioners provide the exchequer with an additional £40 million through taxes, volunteering and unpaid caring.

The media think tanks and some politicians have created a phoney war between the generations, when the real unfairness and inequality in society is between the wealthy and the rest of the population.

After years of campaigning and pressure, the coalition government agreed in 2010 to introduce the so-called ‘triple lock’ guarantee that would raise the state pension in line with the best of either earnings, inflation or 2.5%.  As a result of this the rise in state pensions is considered to be ‘unsustainable’.

Different indexation arrangements mean that all of the new state pension will go up in line with the triple lock, whilst that will only apply to the basic part of the existing pension and the second state pension will continue to be linked to the lower consumer price index.

While there were no fees for those who went to university in the 60s and 70s participation rates were considerably lower than today, meaning that far fewer people enjoyed the privilege than among today’s young people.  Nearly two million people ages 55-64 do not have any private pension savings.  More than 7 out of 10 people in their 50s and 60s are in work.

Not all baby boomers are home owners and those who bought their homes had to pay high interest rates. People in their 50s and 60s are no more likely to be planning a cruise than younger people.  In fact they are slightly less likely to do so than the average age.  People aged 50 and over play less golf than people in their 30s and 40s.

Young people’s falling long term economic prospects are not down to older people in society hoarding all the wealth.  Increased university tuition, unemployment, poor job opportunities, lower pay and rapid house price inflation are the real causes of hardship among the young.

Restricting pensioner expenditure by the state would therefore do little to address the difficulties young people face.  In reality, means testing the winter fuel allowance would have little impact on intergenerational inequality and there has never been any data to show that 18 year olds are demanding that their grandparents’ bus passes or winter fuel allowance should be taken away.


Report from Malcolm Swann who attended the meeting

‘How Healthy is the NHS?’

This session was well attended and ran over by some 45 minutes, due to the interest generated and questions from the floor.

The first speaker was Dawne Garrett (Older People and Dementia Care & Professional Lead Royal College of Nursing).

  Dawne, a working nurse,  said her overall view of the NHS was that there were some ‘good bits’ - these included advances in pain management, technical advances, some levels of training.  Not ‘so good’ were the variations in care across the NHS.  “It was very clear”, she said, “that patients coming from poor areas, with social problems, had a poor outcome”.  There was also a problem with a failure to learn.  ‘Never’ events, classed in the NHS as events which should not ever take place, but still continue to do so—wrong medicines, lost records, wrong communications, were some she mentioned.

The way in which services are being delivered was an important factor, which is failing because of reduced funding and budget cuts.  She felt that in particular with older people, we need to work much more closely with Social Services—joined up care.  There was an incredible problem with delayed discharges, which were causing a shortage of beds.

There are at present 20,000 vacancies for Registered Nurses.  Morale in the NHS at the moment is very low.  Staff turnover over the last four years has doubled the normal level, with staff leaving the profession.  She highlighted the problem with District Nurses—at the moment a 41% reduction in numbers.  Some NHS trusts are covering this with the appointment of Community Nurses, which is not the same thing.  District Nurses are highly trained and these are the only ones that can be classed as Nursing Sisters and called District Nurses.  She went on to say that staff were being subject to lots of changes, with more targets to meet, but these are not meaningful in some cases.  The proposal by the government to do away with the bursary for nurses in training, and substitute a loan, has caused great concern amongst nurses.  If this happens 2/3 of present students would withdraw as they could not afford to continue training.

There is also a problem with weekend working and services.  We don’t have Dieticians, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Speech and Language Therapists available at the weekend, as trusts won’t pay them, also there is a reduction in nursing staff at weekends.  The way hospitals work also needs to be looked at.  Prime example—lunchtimes—normally between 12.30 and 1pm start.  You will find that the meals for the patients on a ward will arrive at the same time, for maybe 30 patients.  We have staff helping to serve food, we may have patients that need feeding assistance, and some needing supervision so they don’t choke.  Result, because we don’t have enough staff, not all patients receive the attention they should at important meal times.  She finally went on to describe the NHS as constipated—so much goes in, so little comes out.

The second speaker was a Consultant Cancer Specialist, Clive Peedall,

who has formed, and is leader of, a new political party—National Health Action Party.  He could never see the day when they would get elected but felt sure that someone should tell the public what is going on in the Health Service.  He could not criticise too much as a paid consultant, but as leader of a registered political party there was freedom to express views to the public.

He started by saying ‘the NHS at the moment is a toxic combination of high demand and austerity—which drives up demand, and the Tory government is not working with the NHS.  At the moment your life expectancy differs with your postcode.  Healthcare is a postcode lottery as to what treatment you get.  The government say they have ring fenced the NHS, that’s just another word for flat-line funding.  Last year 500,000 bed days were lost because of the lack of social care.  Patients are not being managed in the place they should be, and this is resulting in an increase in deaths.  There is a shortage of GPs and this will get worse.  He went on to say that mental health services have problems over demand and services.  One of the deeper causes of what is happening results from 1980, when Margaret Thatcher rolled back state involvement, pushing private care.  The free market opened up the NHS to competition for services.  Later Gordon ‘Prudence’ Brown carried this on.  Labour privatised more than the Tories, with payment by results.  Private Finance Initiative came in, which cost too much in repayments.  NHS managers should be involved in administering the service, not juggling market forces.  Need to invest in healthcare is a must.  Austerity is corrosive to our society, but it is going to be a struggle to change.

The third speaker was Joan Sidman, Health Care Group NPC.

Joan expressed the view that social care should come under the banner of the NHS, a joined up service—whole person care.  Patients (from her own experience) with long term conditions, have to cope with terminology designed to confuse, and have to jump through so many hoops.  It’s fragmented care, not integrated care.  We need simple, joined up care.  She echoed the previous speakers, that bed blocking and readmissions are leading to deaths.  There is evidence of lack of funding to establish integrated care.  Treating patients at home, she felt has more problems.  Staff need more experience, training, transport needs better co-ordination, patients at home don’t have easy access to doctors or extra facilities.  In a lot of cases it’s more expensive to treat patients at home.  Everyone would like to stay at home, but it’s not always practical.

Privatisation—the less care they give you, the more money they make.  She said the Care Guide issued by the government was a paper exercise.

The fourth speaker was from the Pharmacists Association, which represents independent chemists.  He discussed the £170M cuts the government wants to make to the chemist’s budgets, it would lead to closures.  Your local chemists offer a package of care, not just a package of pills, advice being one of them.  Chemists were part of the fabric many communities relied on, and an asset to public health services.  Medicine online as proposed is not a realistic way, patients like face to face advice.  If access is reduced, there will be an increase in demand for GPs and A&E units.

Questions and points from the floor included a suggestion to abolish Clinical Commissioning Groups and replace them with Local Health Authorities, the cost of private firms being used for NHS audits, and safe staffing levels.

In all, an excellent session.  What is very worrying is the concerns by so many people, with years of experience, about the present state of the NHS.  Too many targets, too many not hands on managers, reduced budgets, staff shortages, staff undermined, staff not heard when expressing grave concerns.  Unelected Clinical Commissioning Groups also came under attack for lack of accountability to the public.  We have first hand knowledge of this.  Unless we stand up, everyone was of the opinion that we would lose the NHS as we know it today, in favour of a pay for, American style system.