Monday, 3 May 2010

Older people

I've been working very hard to answer the letters and emails I've received during this election campaign, particularly those sent by people who live in North East Cambridgeshire, rather than by national pressure groups. As I've previously remarked, these have covered a wide range of topics, but one that has cropped up recently is the needs and views of older people, on which quite a few residents have written to me.

Our senior citizens make a huge contribution to our community and to the economy, not least because of all the unpaid work they doing looking after grandchildren. There's an urgent need to make sure that the state pension is fair, and that older people are given flexibility over when they choose to stop working. The NHS and public transport are particularly important public services for older people.

Liberal Democrats have promised to boost the state pension by immediately restoring the link with earnings growth - we wouldn't leave it until 2012. We'd scrap compulsory retirement ages, and introduce the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just those with young children.

We're proud of the NHS - it's built on the basic British principle of fairness. Liberal Democrats believe we can improve the NHS; in fact, we believe it's our duty to do so at a time like this when budgets are tight. We all know that too much precious NHS money is wasted on bureaucracy, and doctors and nurses spend too much time trying to meet government targets.

Our first health priority is to increase spending in some parts of the NHS, by cutting waste in others. We've identified specific savings that can be made in management costs, bureaucracy and quangos, and we'll put that money back into front line health care. Because of the rising costs of treatments and an ageing population, there'll be particular pressure on services like cancer treatment, mental health care, and dementia care; only by going through this process of finding savings elsewhere can we protect these services in the coming years. The NHS is a huge system, and we'll make changes to ensure it works as effectively as possible.

We'll cut the size of the bureaucracy at the Department of Health by half, abolish unnecessary quangos such as Connecting for Health and cut the budgets of the rest. We'll scrap Strategic Health Authorities and seek to limit the pay and bonuses of top NHS managers so that none are paid more than the Prime Minister.

We'll make the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving hospital discharge, maximising the number of day case operations, reducing delays before operations, and where possible moving consultations into the community.

We'll integrate health and social care to create a seamless service, ending bureaucratic barriers and saving money to allow people to stay in their homes for longer rather than going into hospital or long-term residential care.

We'll use the money from Labour's flawed Personal Care At Home Bill to provide guaranteed respite care for the one million carers who work the longest hours. We'll establish an independent commission, with cross-party support, to develop proposals for long-term care of the elderly.

We'll prioritise dementia research within the health research and development budget.

Finally, we have no plans to cut travel concessions to older people that have been pledged by the current government. In fact, we'll help to increase the opportunities of older people to travel by investing £3bn in a Rail Expansion Fund, to reconnect places like Wisbech to the rail network. We'll also give local authorities more control over local bus services so that they can control routes and prices and ensure companies like Stagecoach provide a better service.

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