Growing Old: Care in Crisis?

John was telling me miserably as we both sat beside his hospital bed. He wasn’t ill – just old - and like too many of our elderly he was unhappy because there wasn’t the social care available to keep him safe and supported in his own home.

“This is a waste of my life,” he lamented and the words have stuck in my mind because his experience seemed to sum up the stories that I kept hearing as we investigated social care in Britain for ITV’s Tonight Programme.

Time after time I was meeting old people who felt let down, vulnerable and lonely. People who were leading their twilight years full of worry and waste after leading full and happy young lives.

It will come to us all; old age and vulnerability. And yet whilst we remain young and fit we prefer NOT to think about it, which is perhaps why the army of carers (half a million of them) go about their business largely unsung and unseen.

But making this programme and meeting the carers and people like John forced me to face up to the problems companies trying to provide good-quality, state-funded care now face.

We surveyed 500 providers of home care, all members of the UK Home Care Association. 308 of those providers trade with local councils, delivering state purchased home care to approx. 59,000 people every week. We calculate this sample represents approximately 15% of the UK state funded home care market.

Their responses revealed a shocking lack of confidence about their ability to provide good quality care at the prices local authorities are now willing to pay.

Some providers are pulling out of state-funded care altogether, or planning to withdraw from contracts. Many aren’t bidding for new local authority contracts and concentrating on private care instead.

And it’s not just the companies who provide the care who are the only ones warning about impending doom; the local authorities who pay for it, the regulators who monitor it and the workers who rush around administering it, are all warning of a crisis as the system buckles under the pressure of rising costs, reduced budgets and increasing demand.

“It’s a warning no one seems to want to heed, but your survey confirms what I am hearing from other providers,” said the former care minister Norman Lamb. “That the system is in crisis.”

The Department of Health told us ‘we know the system is under pressure and we need to work in better, smarter ways to deal with our growing, ageing population’. They pointed out the benefits of their 5.3 billion better carefund initiative’

Indeed the political direction of travel is to organise better coordinated social and health care budgets and to invest more in social care which better suits the needs of our ageing population.

But in the light of our survey and figures published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) that show hundreds and thousands of elderly and disabled people have recently had their requests for help with social care declined, the direction of travel may be too slow.

As the CEO of one of the UK’s leading charities for the elderly told me: “If the politicians were all 20 years older they would certainly think about it more and do something about it faster.”