COLIN CAMPBELL: The concerns I share with growing number of fellow pensioners in Highlands
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NEW census figures have revealed that almost a quarter of the population of the Highlands is over the age of 65.
I did not realise until I saw these startling figures that I’m in such widespread company, with such a large proportion of people being of advanced age with the numerous and unpredictable problems it’s liable to bring.
There are obvious advantages to being a pensioner, or a “senior” as some prefer to be called. For most, no more work hassle, strains and stresses. No more having to crawl out of bed in the winter morning darkness with sleet swirling outside to face iced up car windows or in my case a very chilly ride to work on a bike. The freedom to plan your day as you want it without having to fit into a schedule devised by someone else.
But there are very obvious disadvantages too and it doesn’t require a national census to know what they are.
I was chatting recently to an Inverness community stalwart who’s in her early 70s. I’ve known her for years but we’ve made particularly common cause because her main form of transport is still a bike. I’m several years behind her but if I can still regularly get around on two wheels at her age I’ll be doing well, and I’ll also be lucky.
At one point she suddenly blurted out: “I hate old age and what comes along with it.” It was a succinct statement made with real feeling and it resonated with me.
I was recently at a 70th birthday party for a close relative. There were of course others of similar vintage there, and, party time or not, before long the conversation inevitably turned to health. And everyone among us had a contribution to make. An operation, or a waiting list, or a diagnosis, or an upcoming appointment, or just some ache or pain that was restricting daily life.
This was surely not unusual. Put any small group of people of pension age together and once the trivialities – which covers virtually everything else – are out of the way the conversation will turn to the overriding topic of health. All the time honoured wisdom has turned out to be true. Old, or older age certainly doesn’t come alone. Yes, health is more important – far more so – than money. Of course it’s good to have both money and good health, but in terms of what’s most important, there’s absolutely no contest at all.
But then we hear and read about the waiting lists, the delays, the frustration and even despair of many patients across the NHS in Scotland.
A campaign has been launched to replace Raigmore Hospital, and is gaining traction. A new Raigmore and expanded, modernised health facilities there will arrive some day, but how many of today’s over-65s will be around to see it?
We have to rely on the health services that are available. And it’s quite something to acknowledge that nearly one in four people across the Highlands has reached an age when they are most likely to need health treatment. Of course many will retain good health or fairly good health. But the numbers involved even in a best case scenario are still huge.
Never mind a waiting list image evoked of a long shuffling queue. A quarter of the population over 65 involves the image of a massive sea of thousands upon thousands of people covering multiple football pitches. And, amid some departures, those heading into the twilight zone are being joined by new arrivals every day.
The census figures reveal the stark reality those planning for healthcare provision in the region have to deal with. And its size and scale is daunting.
As so many people in the Highlands grow old together we can only hope the campaign for a new Raigmore and increased healthcare capacity gains momentum and urgency. As each year passes, the only certainty on health that every pensioner can share is that it will be needed more and more.