Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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By 2030 there will be 2 million people over the age of 65 without adult children

In this post, previously published on the Guardian blog, Ageing Without Children‘s Kirsty Woodard considers the implications for the care of older people who have no adult children to care for them:

In this country, care for older people rests mostly on the backs of family carers. 70% of carers are supporting someone aged over 65. Half of these will live with the person and the majority are of working age, mostly in their 50s, suggesting that they are the children of those they are caring for.

They are a hugely underappreciated resource.

The way family carers are treated is appalling; their efforts taken for granted, the expectation that they will undertake any and all tasks, from giving injections to changing incontinence pads. And all without the help and training given to paid carers, for the paltry amount of £59.75 a week – if they even qualify for it.

Without them, the health and social care system would collapse completely. But here’s the thing: one in five women born in the 1960s don’t have any children, and ONS statistics predict this will rise to one in four for women like myself born in the 1970s. I did try to look for statistics for people as opposed to women, but naturally in a sexist world, childlessness is seen as a women’s issue.

Kirsty Woodard

Kirsty Woodard

I attended a conference earlier this year about redefining ageing, hosted by Age UK. It was a very good event but I was struck by the fact that no reference was made to the large numbers of people who will age without children. I have spent 20 years working in the field of ageing and have never heard it mentioned. Instead, speakers use anecdotes about their children and grandchildren to connect with the audience, because it is assumed that everyone has children.

This isn’t to criticise people for doing this. It’s wonderful to hear that people have such great familial relationships, and of course more people have children than don’t. But the childless (or child-free depending how they define themselves) are going to be a big cohort in 20 years’ time. Why is this never talked about?

Why at conferences on ageing are people continuing to assume that people will have families to support them, when its likely that 20-25% of them will not.

A recent report from the IPPR predicts that, by 2030, there will be 2 million people over the age of 65 without adult children. Ignoring this issue seems to me utterly bizarre. The potential impact on services is huge. Family carers routinely carry out tasks unnoticed by the state – such as making appointments, running their parents to the hospital, ensuring they take their medication, doing the housework and so on. Who will do this for those of us without children?

I didn’t choose not to have children, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for me, and tens of thousands like me, the state cannot rely on our children to look after us when we get old. And there will be more of us because we’ll live for a long time. Where is the forecasting on this issue? Has anyone at the Department of Health even thought about it? And why do we never talk about it?


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OPAAL to receive share of £4 MILLION to support proposals in the Health and Care field

OPAAL is to get funding to develop new, innovative approaches to health and care, actively share excellent practice or improve integrated care and efficiency.


Voluntary sector organisations submitted funding bids to the Department of Health setting out how they could help meet the Departments objectives of better health and well-being and better care for all and how their proposal has potential for national impact.

Minister for Care and Support Norman Lamb said: “These projects play a crucial role in supporting people, their families and carers. They are examples of just some of the excellent and innovative work going on throughout the country in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector – all of which help to create and support strong and resilient communities.”

Norman Lamb MP

Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb

The Department of Health funding comes from the Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund (IESD) and will cover the cost of a Development Officer post for 4 days a week for 3 years. The Development Officer will work on a  new OPAAL project called Older People’s Cancer Voices alongside the Flagship Cancer, Older People and Advocacy Project and will build relationships between Clinical Commissioning Groups and independent advocacy organisations. Initially the project will work with pilot partners Beth Johnson Foundation, Dorset Advocacy, Help & Care and Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre to create a library of filmed case studies. These real life stories will, like our recent publication Every Step of the Way, aid the buy-in to advocacy and support Commissioners, Health & Wellbeing Boards and Healthwatch to get a better understanding of the impact that advocacy can have.

We aim to produce best practice guidance for use by providers of advocacy services to older people to help them build relationships with Commissioners. Eventually this guidance will be made available across the whole of the advocacy sector. This guidance should ultimately lead to greater opportunities for older people to influence service delivery through Health & Wellbeing Boards and Healthwatch, promoting equality of opportunity along treatment pathways.

Kath Parson

Kath Parson

Kath Parson, OPAAL’s Chief Executive, said ” We are absolutely delighted with this award, this money will help us bring the voices of older people directly to the attention of local decision makers. We aim to support older people to make films of their stories to be used to educate and inform local decision making ensuring that independent advocacy becomes a key component of age friendly care using evidence we will gather as shining examples”.

We are currently recruiting for a new Development Officer and hope to see the project get underway in the Autumn. If you are keen to work with us on this exciting project you can download the application pack from the home page of the OPAAL website by clicking here. The closing date for applications is Tuesday August 12th and interviews will take place in Stoke on Trent on Wednesday 10th September.

Marie McWilliams, National Development Officer, OPAAL


National Cancer Survivorship Initiative

There are currently 1.8 million people in England living with and beyond cancer, and 2 million across the UK as a whole. The aim of the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI) is to ensure that those living with and beyond cancer get the care and support they need to lead as healthy and active a life as possible, for as long as possible.

What is the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative?

The National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI) is a partnership between NHS England and Macmillan Cancer Support, co chaired by Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer, and Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Originating from the Cancer Reform Strategy (DH 2007), the NCSI from 2008 – March 2013 was a partnership between Department of Health and Macmillan, with great support from NHS Improvement.

Our aim is to ensure that those living with and beyond cancer get the care and support they need to lead as healthy and active a life as possible, for as long as possible.

NCSI recently posted a great video which explains what they’re about. Have a look and see what you think:

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Communication: It’s the name of the game!

Yesterday I took part in a Department of Health led webinar. Now a webinar, for those of you who’ve never heard of it, is when people log into their computers from across the country and take part in a presentation/learning event remotely. I had to access my computer then use my phone to call in so I could contribute verbally if necessary. Yesterday’s webinar was a learning event about Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNA) and how the voluntary sector could work with local authorities to get the voices of local people heard. Now that might sound quite dry but actually it was really interesting.

What was really, and unexpectedly, lovely about yesterday was that I could see the names of the others around the country who were also taking part and discovered that a very good friend of mine who lives over 250 miles away from me was also taking part. It made me feel really close to her. What struck me was that I was sitting working at home  and so was she. We laughed privately about the fact that we could work in our PJ’s if we wanted to and no-one would ever know. Personally I draw the line at not getting dressed but it is nice to work with your slippers on…

Working from home has many advantages but also has drawbacks and the main drawback is isolation; no-one to talk to. So to get involved in yesterday’s webinar was really nice as for 2 hours I had almost 100 people with me while I worked. That’s when I got to thinking about our cancer advocacy service.

Our project advocates support older people affected by cancer on an ongoing basis. They provide a link between the older person and the rest of the world, a bit like that webinar did for me yesterday. They reduce the isolation of the older person by being there for them and ensure that lines of communication are open and that, like me yesterday, they can “call in” to the advocacy service and thereby be heard.

It’s wonderful to be a small part of a service which gives so much and I look forward to seeing our project develop over time into an asset that no local community feels it can afford to be without. Oh, and that’s where the webinar comes in again since it gave me an opportunity to think about how we can get local cancer advocacy services involved in their own local Joint Strategic Needs Assessments.

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL