Sirona Health chief Simon Knighton says social care system 'at boiling point'
A Bath health chief has spoken of the “unrelenting” pressure being placed on a nursing and social care system “continually at boiling point.”
Sirona Care and Health chairman Simon Knighton said politicians were dodging their responsibility for some of the horrors which have been seen in scandals such as the Stafford Hospital deaths crisis.
Mr Knighton, whose organisation runs St Martin’s and Paulton hospitals as well as a wide-ranging set of social services and community nursing, said the system was struggling as a result of the pressures it faced.
This, he suggested, was due to the twin drivers of an ageing population coupled with “increased, media-exacerbated, expectations” of what public services should provide, while the economic situation was also having an impact.
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Mr Knighton, who is also chairman of nursing charity Cavell Nurses’ Trust, said nurses and care providers were unfairly bearing most of the blame for poor quality service provision in a range of settings, while political leaders had shirked their responsibility to plan sensibly for society’s current needs.
“Following the Francis report (into the Stafford scandal), the first people to condemn the examples of an unforgivable quality of care are the vast majority of nurses and care providers themselves. This majority are people, often underpaid and understaffed, who work selflessly and professionally in a system that appears to be continually at boiling point.
“The system is under such pressure because we are today seeing the twin drivers of an ageing population coupled with increased, media-exacerbated, expectations of what public services should provide. At the same time we live in constrained economic circumstances.”
He said he was pleased to see a recent House of Lords sub-committee report calling for better and longer-term planning of health services, particularly for the elderly.
He added: “Those of us who lead or manage our current health and social care provision today almost universally have hospitals that are full, with more than 70 per cent of the patient population being over the age of 65 and, typically, 25-30 per cent of that group having some form of dementia.
“Many of these could and should be better cared for in community settings but, because community and social care services have been cut over recent years instead of being reinforced, patients remain delayed in acute hospitals in beds that are badly needed for others.
“They need different styles of nursing and medical expertise from that which has been planned and staffing needs to be organised accordingly.
“The answer has been obvious for many years. It is that community care must be reinforced in the community, whether it be to prevent people from unnecessarily using acute services in the first place or to speed their discharge and recovery if they have been in hospital.
“In addition we need to promote the debate over what people themselves, together with their families, friends, neighbours and communities, should be responsible for and how they can best interface with modern and transparent provision of health and social care.”
As well as supporting nurses, midwives and health care assistants in need, the Cavell charity – named after First World War heroine Edith Cavell – also offers scholarships to today’s outstanding students.
Mr Knighton said: “In presenting Cavell Scholarship Awards, we celebrate some of what is best in the care profession, where the majority of people do a fantastic job. It is also an opportunity to reflect on whether, when political leaders so often vilify the care professions, they are in fact “shooting the messenger” instead of addressing the underlying causes that lie in poor strategic direction and leadership at the highest levels.”
Mr Knighton was the director of the Millennium Debate of the Age and personally presented its reports to leaders of all the main political parties at that time.