Ian Murray: Elderly patients need priority

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As Liberton Hospital faces closure, Ian Murray says our ageing population means facilities for the elderly should be an NHS priorityMaybe we should

Liberton and Astley Ainslie hospitals are fantastic local hospitals with dedicated staff that cater for a very clear need: elderly patients. The suggestion that elderly care hospitals in Edinburgh South could close is another example of governance and finance in our NHS trumping outcomes for patients.

The main driver to keep smaller inpatient facilities like Liberton has to be the increasing number of elderly people requiring acute care.

The document in which NHS Lothian considers closing the hospitals makes clear that the number of over-75s in Lothian will increase by over 20 per cent by 2020. Yet, the facilities that provide for this age group are on the list for possible closure.

The Scottish Government Health Secretary himself said that, even if we are able to reduce by 50 per cent the level of hospitalisation of the elderly, through better treatment in the community, we are still going to need the same number of beds, hospitals, doctors and nurses just to stand still. However, the NHS Lothian report says: “Less hospital inpatient care may mean we need fewer hospital beds.”

Despite what the report says, this proposal isn’t about patients. It is simply about money.

Our NHS has 2000 fewer nurses at a time when they are being asked to do much more. Constituents who work in the NHS tell me staff morale is tumbling but the Health Secretary tells us everything is fine.

Community services such as local lunch clubs can help, but funding is being decimated, making delivery of these voluntary services harder.

Last week, Cairn Housing Association said it was withdrawing from providing very sheltered housing services for elderly in South Edinburgh as it was too expensive. If Liberton and the Astley Ainslie both close, then it will be a further blow. There are significant demographic challenges ahead. But closing such facilities isn’t the way to improve care for our elderly. As we approach the 65th birthday of the NHS, what we need is an honest debate about services for the elderly and how they are funded, not a race to the bottom.

• Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South.