George Freeman is MP for Mid Norfolk and Minister for Life Sciences at the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
There is a truth in our society that we can no longer ignore. With a rapidly ageing population, the UK faces a new demographic reality.
In 2015, we had a million more pensioners that at the beginning of the parliament. At the end of this parliament, we’ll have another million more.
The public policy questions raised by an ageing society are ones that must be addressed. How do we rethink our public services to meet this new challenge?
Representing a rural seat with a large and growing elderly population, I am passionate about making sure we provide security for those who have worked hard and paid into the system all their lives.
Under the Conservatives, we have already seen many vital pension reforms to support older people. We also protected pensioner benefits for the duration of the last parliament, and have committed to protecting them throughout this new parliament too.
Having put these measures in place, the challenge this parliament is using innovation and new technologies to address the equally important issues in relation to helping elderly, often less mobile, citizens access key public services, particularly healthcare.
With a larger elderly population driving an explosion in demand for new medical treatments, how do we make the system sustainable while also providing dignity and security for those patients?
NHS leaders have set out the challenge very clearly in the ‘5 Year Forward View’: by the end of this parliament health costs will be up by a staggering £30bn per year.
NHS senior management have committed to delivering £22bn of efficiency savings, and asked the government to put in an additional £8bn.
To the surprise of many, the Conservatives were the only party which pledged to the electorate to do just that – funding the pledge from growing tax receipts from a growing economy.
It then comes down to looking at how to drive innovation and reform within the system to deliver the £22bn of efficiencies and improve the standard of care for older people.
That’s why I believe that UK leadership in technology and innovation across our healthcare system is central to transforming the lives of older people, and one of my key missions as the first ever minister for life sciences.
Keeping the system sustainable means keeping patients out of one of the most expensive places on earth to be – advanced Western hospitals.
We can do this through earlier diagnosis, tele-health, and using technology to allow elderly people to remain in the comfort and security of their own home, closer to the care of neighbours and family.
Of course, good healthcare isn’t just about technology, but technology can help patients remain longer in the most caring place of all, their local community.
In policy terms, that means a fundamental adoption of technology across our healthcare system: electronic health records to cut out the costs of NHS paper bureaucracy; remote monitoring and tele-health allowing older people to be diagnosed and treated out of hospital; and genomics and informatics to unlock precision medicine so we stop giving the wrong drugs to the wrong people.
Take one example: the lack of co-ordination through the patient pathway, which means older people have to give the same information over and over again to GPs, consultants and care workers.
We’re driving forward an integrated patient record which can be updated in real time and shared by all health and care professionals involved, as well as seen and updated by patients themselves.
That’s why I’m so proud my Patient Data Bill and Jeremy Lefroy’s Private Members’ Bill were adopted recently in the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act.
From 1st October, the NHS number will be used as a single patient identifier across all services and a legal duty to share information will be introduced, so that people’s care can be coordinated across the system.
This will transform the quality of care in the NHS, helping join up the various parts of the system and ensure that older people no longer have to spend hours repeating their medical histories, instead investing that time in making sure they get the quality care they deserve.
Fundamentally, 21st Century technology has the potential to allow us not just to deliver the necessary efficiencies, but to improve our health and care service to patients and users, and empower our elderly patients to take more control of their own lives and condition.
Giving older people the dignity and security they deserve is crucial. Transforming the way older people are cared for through the use of new technology and innovation is one example of how the Conservatives are continuing to make that vision a reality.
Today Bright Blue, The Fabian Society and Centre Forum publish a new report called Generation Game. It is a collection of essays from leading politicians and opinion formers across the political spectrum – including Lord David Willetts, George Freeman MP and Paul Burstow MP.