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Rediscovering the elixir of life – there is more to ageing than managing ill health

Professor Aidan Halligan, Director of Well North

Date/Time: 10th February 2015

Health inequalities continue to widen between the North and South of England. Life expectancy and disability free life expectancy are clear markers of this unacceptable gap. As medical progress has extended our lives, the result has been what Atul Gawande calls the ‘rectangularisation’ of survival. 

We have moved from a pyramidal structure with young children representing the largest portion to having, today, as many 50 year olds as five year olds. There are invisible thousands of vulnerable older adults who are at risk of premature mortality, avoidable hospital admissions and A&E attendance and who have an increasing dependency on acute settings and urgent care. 

At the end of 2011, the King’s Fund noted that 70% of hospital bed days were occupied by emergency admissions and that 80% of admissions who stayed longer than two weeks were over 65.  There appears to be a kind of psychological contract that older people in particular have with acute hospitals – possibly an historical affinity with the building as the place where their problems can ultimately be solved. 

But there is more to health than extending life. The role of the NHS is to support quality of life through minimising the consequences and distress of disease as much as possible and, at the same time, retaining enough function for active engagement in the world. The health service leadership ask is how we connect with the unconnected, how we move the knowledge to the community and how we wrap our services around our patients.

Speaker biography

Professor Halligan is currently Director of Well North, a Public Health England initiative to improve the health of the underprivileged across the North of England.  He is Principal of the NHS Staff College for leadership development and Chairman of Pathway, a charity that has developed health services for the homeless within the NHS.

He became a professor in fetal and maternal medicine in Leicester before taking on a national role as the first NHS Director of Clinical Governance.  He went on to become Deputy Chief Medical Office for England, with responsibility for issues of clinical governance, patient safety and quality of care across the NHS in England.