800,000 vulnerable elderly abandoned by state

elderly woman drinkingOliver Berg/DPA/Press Association Images

Age Concern and the British Geriatrics Society are calling on the government to take radical action now, warning that 800,000 vulnerable elderly people are falling through the net of state help.

They say these people have been abandoned by the state system, which has left them to fend for themselves. So what can be done?

The scale of the problem

The figures, from Age UK, show just how many hundreds of thousands of people are on a knife edge - abandoned by a government focused on stripping services to the bone, and councils striving to live on less at all costs.

It says that 82% of councils will only help people who are assessed as having 'substantial' or 'critical' care needs. Those with 'moderate' needs are on their own. This is twice the number of councils who left these people to fend for themselves seven years ago.
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This includes many thousands suffering from dementia. This is often only considered to be a 'moderate' need. However, evidence compiled in 2011 by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission concluded that when they are left to fend for themselves in their own homes, dementia sufferers often struggle to feed themselves. This can precipitate a real medical crisis.

Impact of neglect

Age UK charity director general Michelle Mitchell says "Older people at the most physically vulnerable point in their lives are being catastrophically let down." "Age UK and the British Geriatrics Society are seeing a generation of very vulnerable people whose health is suffering because they are not getting enough care at home."

Ian Donald, Consultant Geriatrician and Social Care Chair of the British Geriatrics Society has witnessed the results first-hand, working on an acute elderly care ward in a District General Hospital. He says: "We try to make it our practice to meet the families within a day or so of their admission to our ward – and so often we hear a story of how they are all struggling to cope. Some have contacted Social Services for help and are on a waiting list because their needs are not yet judged to be urgent – sometimes it seems the only way to turn is to seek hospital admission, or more commonly wait for that crisis to occur which precipitates the emergency admission."

The charities highlight that this failure is actually costing the government more than offering the right care in the right setting. The average cost of keeping someone in hospital because they don't have the care they need at home is £1,834. This compares to someone receiving 30 hours of home care a week plus weekly nurse visits and monthly GP visits at £988 a week.

What can be done?

They are calling for fundamental change at the government level. However, until that happens, it will fall to the families of elderly people to provide the care they need. It is therefore well worth assessing the needs of relatives as they enter their more vulnerable years and considering what would happen if they need care.

There are no easy answers. No-one can afford to pay almost £1,000 a week for care, so clearly there will need to be a series of compromises and difficult decisions. However, it's essential we consider them in advance, rather than going through it at a time that's likely to be highly stressful already.

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