Health Secretary Alan Johnson has promised new emphasis on preventive care to keep older people in better health for longer. Addressing a meeting at health policy think-tank the Kings Fund, Johnson challenged the NHS to provide more and better preventive care for older people and outlined a package of measures which aim to empower older people to live longer, healthier and more independent lives.

This comes hard on the heels of the recent consultation launched by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the future of social care, but in advance of the full national launch of the Darzi Review of NHS Services. Johnson told the audience that local health and social care providers needed to work more closely together to build on services already provided and ensure people know to what they are entitled.

He acknowledged the provision of health and social care services for older people was patchy, with some areas already ahead of the game while others had a long way to go.

Adding life to extra years
Johnson told the audience: “I want to ensure, where possible, those extra years are quality years where people have and are aware of basic entitlements to help them lead healthy, independent lives. Our aim must be to make quality of life stretch right to the end of life. Many of those entitlements already exist, but people may not be aware of them. In other areas, there is more work to be done."

"Over the coming months," he continued, "I will be talking to local health and care providers about ways to provide more and better preventive care for older people...I want today’s announcement to be the first step on the next stage of our journey towards better, more personalised care. We want to ensure that older people see their local services improve, and that it becomes easier for them to access and use these services."

His speech re-announced a new national focus on innovative healthcare such as telecare, (helping older people manage their conditions in their own homes) through setting up a new national learning network. It also promised an expert group to help the NHS better provide services for falls, fractures and osteoporosis, and a review of footcare services, to ensure that it is made more accessible to older people, and delivered in an integrated way across all providers of such services. Johnson also emphasised the ongoing commitment to reducing waits for hearing tests and the fitting of hearing aids.

Welcome initiative
Key stakeholders in the audience were broady supportive in their questions, if curious about any extra resources to privide these services. Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern England, said, "good health and wellbeing are essential for making the most out of later life. People aged 65 and over are the fastest growing age group in Britain and now there are more centenarians than ever beforeWe strongly welcome the intention to focus on preventative health, including podiatry and nail cutting, as well as life threatening conditions. Shifting the focus to prevent health problems rather than just responding to crises makes good sense for everyone."