Our vulnerable elderly are being treated like cattle. The private sector can help.

Don't mention the money men. That should have been David Cameron's advice to Andrew Lansley when the Health Secretary started to unveil his NHS reforms. NHS doctors, nurses and social sector workers hate anything that smacks of business. They are liberal, idealistic professionals who see the NHS not as a state-run entity but as a lovely, if overgrown, community project. Many of them have resisted going private because they still subscribe to a Beveridge vision; they feel a vocation to help the poor, not just to relieve their patients' ailments. For this noble-minded breed, Lansley talking about private enterprises supporting state-run hospitals and care services was anathema. He alienated them instantly: to their mind business preys on the vulnerable, it never saves them; "private" in their eyes is Southern Cross – a disaster sparked by the greed of private equity firms.

And yet business is exactly what we need to stop the scandal of pensioners being "passed like parcels" around a care system that is disconnected and oversubscribed.

Thankfully, businesses has already identified, and is beginning to chase, the "high-support elderly" section of the population. The demographics swell their ranks: Britons are growing older and older (the population aged 65 and over is just under 10 million). About 2.5 million claimants of disability benefit are over 65.

Business sees in this group a perfect market: care homes are huge business, worth more than £5 billion; private hospitals and private medical insurance are booming – with a third of  GPs saying they plan to make more private referrals this year. Pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to assist the elderly already prove a nice little earner.

This sounds distasteful – making money out of Granny's infirmity doesn't seem right somehow. But for once suspicion of the money men should be resisted. Let them make a profit out of assisting this chunk of the population: clever investment in care can save the NHS and more importantly the vulnerable elderly.

This is particularly true in preventative care. Take the example of telehealth, a business venture which could transform the lives of chronic invalids and ease the strain on NHS resources, from hospital beds to doctors' time. The Government is committed to a "3millionlives" project which would use mobile phones and televisions at home to allow doctors and nurses to monitor the progress of patients with chronic conditions from diabetes to heart failure.

Telehealth providers are rubbing their hands at the prospect of increasing their client base from a few thousand, who were part of pilot projects in Cornwall and Blackpool. So what? Three million Britons who stay home are three million Britons who don't need the already over-subscribed hospitals.

NHS doctors, nurses, administrators (and Lib Dem voters): hold your noses and let the money men help out. It's the only way forward.


Sourced from The Telegraph, 8th February 2012.