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Commonwealth citizens share many aspirations and they also share many of the same challenges and problems that come with being humans in the 21st-century.

One area where there is a great need for us to co-operate and share experiences is the area of health and social care. In all Commonwealth countries, we face the challenge of how we support our citizens and ensure they lead healthy and active lives. One of our big opportunities is to learn from each other and to ensure that as services develop across the Commonwealth, the very best of what we do, can inform the way in which different countries respond to common issues.

In the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, we are struggling with the challenges of changing demographics and many more older people. We all have fairly well-established health and social care services, but the extent to which these have been keeping up with changing needs and aspirations is debatable. There are many lessons that can be learned from our experience, and as countries develop and expand their health and social care services, I hope they will look to those countries who have gone before for practical examples of what works, and also of what needs to be avoided.

In the UK, we have a very medical model and we think mostly in terms of how to cure and manage the physical conditions of ageing; it is only latterly, that we are starting to understand that older people live in communities and want to have a life, rather than just a series of services.

I am struck by how many Commonwealth countries have maintained a sense of community within their societies and this sense of community and mutuality is a very firm building block for a good health and social care system.

In my view, in the UK, we have understated the importance of living in families and communities, and have not understood how essential good social networks are to a sense of well-being and good mental and physical health.

As other Commonwealth countries think, about how they develop their care services, I hope they will realise that these need to be rooted in local communities and in the mutuality and support that comes from a sense of belonging.

Many years ago I lived in Uganda, a country that was facing enormous economic and political challenges. What was so incredibly powerful however, was the way in which local communities supported each other and helped to ensure that people who had health problems were supported to live as good a life as possible, without an enormous system of health and social care services to fall back on.

As countries in the Commonwealth start thinking about how to develop their health and social care systems, I hope they will take the best examples of how their communities support one another, and incorporate them into any system that is developing to provide care.

We can all be proud of the technological advances of the last hundred years in health and social care, but we must never forget that we are supporting people and they are the most important part of the system.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.