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Professor Robin Means
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Professor Robin Means, University of the West of England

Health and Social Care Policy in Later Life: Taking the Long View


Discussion of health and social care policy in the UK is bedevilled by a tendency to ignore insights from an in depth understanding of the past. This is often because the past is seen to be irrelevant as a result of a kind of year zero mentality. On other occasions there is a tendency to offer a myth of a golden age of services when nearly all needs were met and older people were treated with dignity by health and social care professionals.

This 'Ageing Bite' emphasises the need to take a nuanced long term perspective by providing two examples of the insights to be gained. First, the continued failure to achieve dignity in care is looked at with illustrations including the Ely Hospital, Cardiff scandal of the 1960s. Second, the emphasis of the 1950s upon voluntary organisations and volunteers as the main providers of community based social care is explored and it is shown how this led to growing inequalities of provision. The implications of both these examples for present debates are drawn out.

The challenges of delivering high quality historical perspectives are acknowledged especially for non-historians. However, the 'bite' concludes by arguing that such studies are crucial if we are to learn from the past in order to improve the present.

Further Reading

V. Berridge, M. Gorsky and A. Mold (2011) Public Health in History, Maidenhead: Open University Press (clear introduction on how to introduce historical methods to a policy area and the insights to be gained).

M. Gorsky (2013) ' "To regulate and confirm inequalit?" A regional history of geriatric hospitals under the English National Health Service, c.1948-c.1975',  Ageing and Society, vol. 33, pp.598-625 (excellent example of the insights to be gained from detailed scholarship).

R. Means, S. Richards and R. Smith (2008) Community Care: Policy and Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave (illustrates how historical perspectives can throw light on contemporary policy and practice debates).

P. Thane (ed.) (2005) The Long History of Old Age, London: Thames and Hudson (shows how insights from history on latter life stretch well beyond policy and practice issues).