Care home health of elderly key, say dentists

Government must set out how it will integrate health and social care and provide for the oral health needs of the vulnerable elderly population in care homes, the BDA has warned.

Dr John Milne said the issue needed addressing ahead of the overhaul of the NHS and changes being implemented from April.

At the Labour Party annual conference in Manchester, chair of the BDA's general dental practice committee, Dr Milne, urged shadow health secretary Andy Burnham to include the measures in any Labour plans.

Dr Milne said: 'Andy Burnham was speaking about the need to integrate health and social care, which has been the holy grail of all politicians working in health and social care as long as I can remember. One of the things that I think is very important on that agenda is looking at vulnerable elderly people. The fact that the oral health if they have to
enter care homes or if they are needing care in their own homes when they are getting older needs to be properly resourced, it is very labour intensive and very time intensive. That is one huge issue that the politicians have to face if they are looking at overall reforming health.'

Dr Milne believes staff at care homes need to be trained to deal with the oral health of patients, including dementia and Alzheimer's who may not be able to express they are in pain.

'We have made clear to Labour the oral health needs of people entering care homes need to be resourced properly and there needs to be training of the staff that looks after those patients, staff in care homes need to get adequate training on how to care for those patients with dementia and Alzheimer's. We know oral health can deteriorate rapidly in that sector of the population and so it leads to pain and discomfort and loss of dignity. Oral health must be part of the vision.'

Dr Milne said there was some anxiety that the dental pilots will not accept the difficulties and the resource implications of the higher needs of the elderly population.

He concluded: 'We need a bit more clarity from the NHS about what level of advanced care the NHS is able to provide, and I think we need some honesty from government about the resource implications of the elderly population. It is a well know phenomenon, what we are hoping will happen is within the pilots the way in which patients oral health is assessed will give a true picture of the needs of all patients and what needs to be done to prevent disease but particularly give a picture of the scope of care that is needed for the elderly population.'

The comments come as shadow health secretary Andy Burnham calls for more integration in health and social care in his keynote speech at conference.

He told delegates: 'We can get better results for people if we think of one budget, one system caring for the whole person – with councils and the NHS working closely together. All options must be considered – including full integration of health and social care. We don't have all the answers. But we have the ambition.'

by Anika Bourley
Parliamentary Correspondent

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