People with long-term health conditions need an ambitious rehabilitation strategy to ensure they aren’t left behind
As the government considers its options for the long-overdue reform of social care, we must ensure that people can live independently in the way they choose for as long as is possible.
Over the past 18 months, people with pre-existing, long-term health conditions have seen those conditions deteriorate at a much faster pace than they would have expected.
Today I am joining a broad coalition, including national charities, Royal Colleges and others representing millions across the country, to make this ask of government. In their report Moving Forward Stronger, this coalition is calling on the government to fully-fund a two-year rehabilitation strategy.
This must be a central part of our recovery from the pandemic. It is vital that people with significantly deteriorated long-term conditions get the therapeutic support they need in the coming weeks and months. The pandemic has posed huge challenges for people with long-term health conditions, and we must address these challenges now to prevent any further deterioration.
Factors ranging from the effects of contracting Covid-19 through to the implications of repeated lockdowns, reduced social contact, and the suspension of vital rehabilitative services have all contributed to the deterioration of people’s conditions. The first wave of the pandemic understandably saw rehabilitation professionals deployed to acute services for Covid-19 patients, with community rehabilitation services primarily offering limited virtual support. Unacceptably, this has meant that people with long-term conditions have been left behind without the tailored support they need.
With the right support the deterioration of some people’s conditions can be slowed down or halted altogether
Community services, and indeed all rehabilitation services, are instrumental for the management of people’s long-term health conditions. With the right support the deterioration of some people’s conditions can be slowed down or halted altogether. The government has finally recognised the role of rehabilitation in supporting people with long Covid with their recovery and through its ‘Your Covid Recovery’ service – although their commitment so far fails to match the scale of the problem. But services should not be available to some and not others on the basis of how they have acquired their condition. Those with long-term health problems all need and deserve the support rehabilitation services can provide.
To take one example from the report, an Alzheimer’s Society survey from 2020 found that 82% of people with dementia have experienced a deterioration in their symptoms since the start of the pandemic. Changes to community rehabilitation services (including a move towards online service delivery), restrictions on social contact, and a reduction in both care plan reviews and referrals to memory services have all contributed to this deterioration. This has left people with dementia and their exhausted carers in need of more intensive support.
As the government is rumoured to be considering its options for the long-overdue reform of social care, we must ensure that people can live independently in the way they choose for as long as is possible. Rehabilitation services will be vital if we are to realise this ambition.
Instead of continuing with its string of missed opportunities and broken promises, the government now has the chance to make a major difference to the lives of people with long-term conditions by delivering a rehabilitation strategy. For Ministers to fail to do so would not only be short-sighted but morally unacceptable.
Barbara Keeley is the Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South.
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