For the first time in UK history, the population of people over 65 is greater than that of those under 16. This is a cause for celebration: more of us are living longer lives. However, with this new demographic profile, policy changes are urgently required.
Recently, 150 people gathered at a Guardian debate on ageing to hear how new health, housing, social and care policies might accommodate the growing population of elders in our society.
The debate included discussion on 'co-production' – involving older people as partners in the design and implementation of policy initiatives, while recognising that they are not one homogenous group with identical needs.
It was clear that we need policies that support older people to keep healthy. This includes embracing opportunities for employment and volunteering – which have been shown to support good physical, social and emotional wellbeing in older age.
The panel also discussed international approaches to meeting the housing needs of older people, citing Denmark's remarkably successful model of three-generation household living.
The hugely impressive Baroness Joan Bakewell, previously the Labour Party's ambassador for older people, was honest and pragmatic – she clearly understood the issues, the challenges and the nuances on all sides of the debate.
Two issues were evident by the end of the evening. Firstly, while the QNI supports professional regulation for the nursing assistant workforce, this is not the position of the current government. However, the QNI will continue to lobby for professional regulation. Achieving this will be a significant move in protecting the most vulnerable people receiving care in our society.
Secondly, some of those who espouse policy (with the exception of Lady Bakewell) appear to have very limited experience and understanding of providing care at home for older people living with complex health and social care needs.
To help address this, the QNI will continue to offer senior system leaders without clinical experience the opportunity to shadow a Queen's Nurse while at work. We believe that witnessing the delivery of excellent nursing care in the community can have a profound impact on policy development.
Feedback on this initiative has been overwhelmingly positive and I am grateful to all the Queen's Nurses, patients, carers and families who so generously share their experiences to help shape future policy.