Posts Tagged ‘Elderly Care’
We fans of our dear leader were impressed to see him posing at Heathrow with a squad big enough to turn Roy Hodgson green. But a spell of hen-cleaning brings out the worst in people, and by the time we reached the warm ‘hut’ my fellow codgers were rattling off the names of a large number of cronies provided with a ticket to China at the taxpayer’s expense. Sam’s stepfather Viscount Astor was there, as was Lord Chadlington, the subject of a hoo-hah about a piece of land sold to the Cameron constituency estate. Lord Leigh, who has donated £200,000 to party funds and Rohan Silva, a former adviser to our dear leader stood alongside Alan Parker, who went on holiday with Dave in 2008.
At this point we wearied of the impromptu ‘Spot the Face’ exercise, and decided to give our hero the benefit of the doubt. He says that he has a thirst for trade with China so why not take his mates along to buy a round. And the man is no fool, he didn’t select his once favourite person, the Dalai Lama!
Such sensitivity is to be admired. It has presumably led our leader to spot the dangers in the continuing focus on fuel poverty for ‘heat or eat’ is not the sort of slogan with which to approach an election. As a result it has been decided to change the formula used to calculate the key poverty indicator. Currently, fuel poverty refers to those households that need to spend more than 10 per cent of their income “to maintain an adequate level of warmth”. Given the Coalition’s thirst for “meaningful” statistics the new definition will apply only to households that need to spend more than average on fuel and who would be left with “a residual income below the official poverty line”.
According to the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee the new formula will “dramatically reduce the number of people in fuel poverty”. Those of us thirst for examples of the art of smoke and mirrors are delighted. The sufferers are probably less impressed.
Of course thirst comes in many forms and we mustn’t forget its literal interpretation. Today Charities have called for an urgent review of the private sector care system, where a record number of elderly residents are dying of dehydration. They rightly point out that the general public would be outraged if animals were treated in the same way. Figures obtained under freedom of information have revealed that the government has failed to arrest the climb in people dying of thirst. Dehydration now regularly features on death certificates, according to the Office of National Statistics.
A typical case is that of Norma Spear. A coroner found that neglect at a Birmingham care home contributed to her death, she lost 35lbs in five weeks while suffering from dehydration. This is but one of many examples of scandals in recent months, with homes accused of systematic neglect and carers jailed for abusing patients. If even the simple task of proving water to a frail patient is being neglected one can only imagine the fate of so many elderly people left to the mercy of the private sector so beloved by Jeremy Hunt, Andrew Lansley and all those hell-bent on privatising more and more NHS services.
Of course we all realise that the descent into care homes from hell has been in part triggered by huge cuts to their fees, and it is in this respect that we feel the greatest revulsion. Are we really so penniless that we have to sacrifice the most vulnerable? Tax avoidance apart, there are many examples of billions of pounds being sqandered. On Wednesday the relentless Margaret Hodge, and her public accounts committee, will be turning the spotlight on the soaring cost of decommissioning the huge Sellafield nuclear plant. It is now believed that the bill will rise even higher than its current estimate of £70 billion.
Nuclear Managemnt Partners, the private sector consortium that manages the site, has declined to answer but other sources claim that record keeping is “not what it should be”. Executives will be asked to comment on why executives of the consortium have come to share out bonuses totalling £6 million. Auditors KPMG have accused the clean-up group of overspending, failure to reach targets and weak leadership at the atomic complex in Cumbria. Mrs Hodge has accused the group of spending cash “like confetti”.
We cannot pretend to understand the complexities here. But every day brings another example of what sounds like an extraordinarily cavalier attitude to public money on the part of private companies set up to provide public services.
We find it impossible to reconcile this with the plight of our forgotten elderly. They thirst for water, the rest of us thirst for action and a whiff of justice.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ”It is not good enough for ministers or the care regulator to talk about making improvements by 2015 when, in the meantime, older people are dying from neglect. We need to show the same compassion that we show for animals when it comes to caring for our elderly loved ones!”…..Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention.
Was it only last week that we danced to the joys of Spring as we cleaned out the hens? Well, hobbled rather than danced, but you know what I mean. This morning we were back to ‘normal’, by which I mean wet socks and decidedly grumpy dispositions.
Our mood wasn’t helped by screaming headlines about the collapse of A & E services. Have Jeremy Hunt and his fellow halfwits been on Mars for the past few months? Together with others, this site has issued many a warning that as a result of a combination of funding cuts and the collapse of GP and social services, A & E units have gone out of control. Having eventually realised this Mr Hunt has decided to create ‘Urgent Care Boards’. Yet more bureaucracy, yet more inaction!
As those of us who have spent many years working for the NHS have repeatedly stressed what is needed is the addition of a GP to A & E staffing at peak times. Almost one third of the people pouring through our hospital emergency doors are not accident victims, but they do face an emergency due to their inability to get an urgent GP appointment. What is needed is a two-stream hospital system plus a reinstatement if the staffing levels that pertained before the mad Lansley did his worst.
Sadly we are regularly berated by readers when we venture to suggest that all of our emergency care systems are collapsing. Socialist propaganda is the usual response from those who believe that, in some mysterious way, the privatisation of the NHS and social care structures will herald a new Jerusalem. But socialists we are not, Had we been we would have resigned last night when the Labour spokesman on David Bumblebee’s Question Time lectured us on the overwhelming benefits of EU membership, and went on to explain the dangers of allowing an “unenlightened” public to express a view.
What our accusers would prefer not to read is the story of Gloria Foster, aged 81. The frail widow with dementia, was entirely dependent on four daily visits from carers, who fed her, helped her get out of bed and gave her medicine. But for nine days in January she was left to starve to death after an immigration raid on the private care company contracted to look after her. Mrs Foster, from Banstead, Surrey, was discovered starving, dehydrated, covered in bed sores, with a weak pulse and suffering from kidney failure. She was rushed to Epsom hospital where she died.
Imagine the scene in that bedroom. Hunger, thirst, pain and the sense of being forgotten created a re-enactment of hell on earth. Even Dickens never created such poignant and appalling imagery.
Carefirst24 was contracted to provide care to elderly people. Police and the UK Border Agency raided its Surrey offices after allegations that the firm was employing illegal immigrants. It was closed down. But before the raid Border Agency officials held meetings with the local councils to give them time to make alternatve arrangements. Given the parlous state of cash-strapped social services no action was taken.
The result was horrendous. A confused and frightened elderly lady was left to suffer days of torment and suffering, another victim of heartless cuts and an uncaring society. The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is no criminal case to answer, and so-called ‘close friends’ of the deceased have protested vehemently. In truth they were clearly not close at all, and the authorities regard another tragic death from neglect as of no great importance.
Call this propaganda if you must, but we codgers take a different view. We feel a great sense of shame at a society which tolerates cruelty on this scale. Every living soul has the right to a dignified and caring end, and if even this is now beyond us the sight of pomp and ceremony of Queen’s speeches and the rest will continue to revolt us.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Surrey police were called in to investigate any possible criminal offences after Surrey County council did not provide alternative care provision for Mrs Foster. Following a thorough investigation officers determined that there was no criminal case to answer”….Police statement 9/5/2013
Albert was singing, as only the tone-deaf can sing, as we cleaned out the hens this morning. It may have been down to two mornings on the trot witout a downpour, but given the words of his croak it was probably related to his latest attempt to bankrupt the bookies. The song goes back a long way but its words seem very relevant to Britian 2012. ‘Money is the root of all evil’ stormed the charts a few decades ago, today it could be our national anthem.
Like the rest of the country we are keyed up about today’s Wimbledon Final. Tom remarked that it is nice to focus on something that isn’t money-driven. Really? If Andy Murray wins today he will pocket £1.5 million in prize money plus an estimated £50 million in sponsorships. Sounds somewhat money-related to me. But at least it will be money honestly earned.
On Tuesday the European Parliament will debate proposals to curb banker’s bonuses. In the eyes of most people the EU achieves little via its endless interference in Britain’s affairs, but this is one issue that merits attention on an international level. But guess who is planning to torpedo any such move. Yes, its our very own Gorgeous George Osborne. Last year bankers pay rose by 12 per cent after a 36 per cent leap in the previous year. And bonuses went off the graph. But our chancellor is determined to use his veto to protect his friends.
No surprise really that he and our dear leader went to great lengths to rule out an independent inquiry into the Barclays Libor fiddling, an internal whitewash with the chance to smear the two Eds is a much safer and attractive option. No surprise either that the Treasury Select Committee now realises that Bob Diamond spun them a tale and wishes to recall him. Of course he spun them a tale, the only surprise is that they didn’t grasp the fact when he was before them.
The reality is that the whole banking culture must be changed and the casino-like investment arm seperated. Osborne can wriggle all he may but nothing short of a total reform will do, for where the banks lead the rest of the financial structure follows. And that embraces a lot of organisations, not least the Inland Revenue. It has been involved in a series of cosy settlements with large companies and now we learn that two of its directors are involved with companies operating tax avoidance schemes.
Do you remember Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street? His motto was “greed is good” and we were glad that people like him only existed in Hollywood make-believe. We were wrong. When Rover closed suddenly in 2005 and 5000 workers were put out on to the streets, four directors shared £4 million. Outrageous, we cried then, but that was small beer, now almost every top executive has a nose in the trough and every major company practices tax avoidance. We all know about Amazon, Vodaphone and the like but even a hero such as Richard Branson has an empire consisting of companies registered in the Channel Isles and British Virgin Islands.
Meantime Sean Connery demands an independent Scotland. Perhaps he will actually come home to pay taxes should it come to pass, but don’t hold your breath. Under Blair and Cameron it has become the established practice of the British establishment not to pay British taxes. According to the protest group 38 Degrees even the chancellor himself has earned the title of the ‘Artful Dodger’.
Small wonder then that we have to reduce our armed forces to their lowest ever levels, to refuse to act on elderly care, to bleed the NHS to its death. Unless everyone pays tax the outgoings will always exceed the incomings.
But there is hope. It is clear that politicians will never willingly tackle the issue of financial privilege and malpractice. But public opinion is on the march. There is a growing national demand for a new morality, a recognition that the new infatuation with wealth will bring us all down.
That old song was right. Almost everything that is failing and wrong in our society has money at its roots!
THE ENEMY WITHIN!
A British jihadist who fought with Al Qaeda was arrested yesterday after going through the Olympic Park five times. He was under a control order not to enter any Olympic zone, but still travelled through the main games area in Stratford, East London five times in a single day before being spotted. According to a Home office lawyer the man known only as CF wishes to “re-engage in terorism-related activities, either in the UK or Somalia”, and is “determined to continue to adhere to his Islamist extremist agenda”.
Because he is a Britsh citizen he has been free to leave the country to fight alongside Al Qaeda and free to return at his pleasure. His human rights dictate that he is not unduly harrassed.
And he is far from the only one causing MI5 nightmares as the games draw near. A Home Secretary with guts would lock the whole lot up and throw away the key. Better still put them on a plane to the places they profess to love and make it a one-way ticket.
The response to that will be that we are a tolerant society. Should an atrocity occur ministers may find that we are not quite as tolerant as they fondly imagine!
Not too many tears for Bob Diamond on the allotments this morning. Perhaps it was the news that he may receive up to £30 million by way of compensation that niggled. Perhaps it was the fact that a number of our gang are Barclays customers receiving near fanny-adams in interest. But in any case the chat at our tea-break was about a friend who died last week. It has to be said that long before he breathed his last, he suffered a fate worse than death. Because he required periodic medical care he was trapped inside a busy hospital. Noise, constant change of faces, emergency teams racing past – not the way you hope to end your days is it?
In his case it has to be said that the nursing care was excellent. But given the reductions in staffing levels our friend felt guilty at asking for help from overworked ward staff.
I mention this because today the Nuffield Trust and the IMF have published a financial appraisal of the NHS. Their forecast is that the service will suffer austerity for at least a decade, whilst the number of patients will continue to rocket. Right now income from the government is frozen and a cost reduction of £20 billion has been imposed. In most cases this can only be achieved by reducing the number of employees, 80% of whom are clinical. And the report suggests that things will worsen!
Of course times are hard and doctors and nurses cannot be entirely sheltered. But we cannot go on expecting them to provide the kind of service we have all enjoyed for many years. Solution? Andrew Lansley talks about closing wards, or even hospitals, and moving services into the community to be provided by GPs. It is absolute nonsense, as any GP will tell you. First we expect our family doctors to take over commissioning, now they are to be surgeons too. And even if that were possible most would need new premises with hospital style equipment. And beds presumably.
The nightmare is that we have in charge of the a vital service a man who at first seemed a rather vague academic, but has emerged as Benny of Crossroads. With things reaching breaking point he is pursuing reforms which at best will simply further complicate an already complicated structure. Were he to ask, any front-line NHS consultant could give him the answer, the only answer.
It is to take away from hospitals the care of older people with long-term medical conditions. That number will continue to climb dramatically as we live longer. We can leave out of this those patients whose needs can be met by a nursing home. The reason so many elderly patient spend weeks, or even months, on wards is their need for checks and treatment orders from consultants. It is not unusual for a patient to occupy a bed for eight weeks simply because they need a weekly progress analysis from a specialist. Of course they also receive nursing care but that does not need to be in an acute hospital.
I was part of a team that proposed, to the then Health Minister, consultant-led teams working in the community. All patients whose domiciles were considered suitable would be visited by him or her as regualarly as necessary and teams of community nurses would visit continually. Carers would be added to the ‘package’ if relevant. Mobile equipment would be owned and managed by the district team.
The total cost per patient was estimated at around one-sixth of maintaining the patient in hospital, and the experience of the patient would be a zillion times more relaxing and curative. GPs were the first to agree that such a plan would require specialists, should a general practitioner undertake such a role he or she would be constantly forced to send people back to hospital, which is exactly what happens now in the case of nursing homes.
Care of the elderly is the NHS’s major problem. Other patients tend to be in hospital for specific treatments and there is nothing to be gained by moving them elsewhere, not least because the vast majority are short-stay.
But instead of focussing in on the real issue Benny is off with the fairies. And now that his boss is totally occupied with saving his own skin, he will feel free to install his reforms which few understand and no one, apart from the private sector, supports!
INFAMOUS QUOTES; ”If it weren’t for speed bumps, pickpockets and frisking at airports, I’d have no sex life at all”…..Rodney Dangerfield “On my 85th birthday I felt like a 20-year old. But there wasn’t one around”…..Milton Berle “I can still enjoy sex at 75. I live at 76, so its no distance”…..Bob Monkhouse “If your baby is beautiful and perfect, never cries or fusses, sleeps on schedule and burps on time – you’re the grandma”….Theresa Bloomingdale “I had dinner with my father last night, and made a classic Freudian slip. I meant to say, “Please pass the salt”, but it cam out , “You prick, you ruined my childhood”…..Jonathan Katz “Having children gives your life a purpose. right now mine is to get some sleep”……Reno Goodale
With a number of us in our eighties, it is no surprise that we codgers wince each time we read of appalling examples of the standard of care provided by Lansley’s beloved private sector. As if to counter that impression Bupa, the largest provider, has recently been running a huge national advertising campaign portraying life in a Bupa care home as the next best thing to lodging with Donald Trump. It has also linked in to a campaign urging everyone to take out private healthcare insurance as, to quote the ads, the NHS waiting lists lengthen.
On various occasions we have mulled this over after sorting out the hens. We invariably concluded that we cannot afford insurance, and must accept our fate now that Clegg and his lapdogs have nodded the NHS reforms through. But we usually concluded that, if we had the means, Bupa would be our choice, it after all is usually held up by Lansley as an example of what competition can provide. How wrong we were!
Yesterday Judge Mark Brown rounded on Bupa after a jury at Liverpool Crown Court convicted the manager of the Dalton Unit of Stonedale Lodge in Croxteth, Karen Southern, of wilful neglect. The Judge told her : “Bupa hold themselves out as being the leading UK providers of dementia care…yet the nursing home was run very badly and there was a great deal of cost-cutting. There were often inadequate staffing levels, the unit itself was filthy, and the premises were in a tired and dilapidated state”. The court heard how Southern was under “great pressure” to maximise profits. There was, the Judge said, a financial interest to fill beds yet keep costs down and added that: “The public will be appalled to hear the way that Joyce Farrow, 90, was looked after at this Bupa home”.
Earlier the court had heard of an appalling regime in which the elderly lady was left unsupervised to such an extent that she tumbled out of bed and crawled naked along the floors. Staff failed to keep her clean and she was often left hungry and thirsty. The pensioner endured two months of torment before being transferred to an NHS hospital. But it was too late and she died a few days later.
We take no pleasure in using this case to support our repeated attacks on Lansley’s bill which will, without a shadow of a doubt, bring private companies such as Bupa into the NHS. But it illustrates vividly what can happen when profit is more important than patient care. Minimum wages are paid as a result of which the ratio of unskilled to skilled is far below NHS guidelines, and the number of staff is kept to an absolute minimum.
There is one consolation. By the time of the next election the standard of NHS performance will have sunk to an all-time low and, for the first time, the public will have its chance to pass a verdict on politicians who, without any mandate, destroyed the service that for so long has meant so much to so many!
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT HOBBIES; “They called me a fatalist , but I’d never collected a postage stamp in my life!”…..Yogi Berra ”My only hobby is laziness which naturally rules out all the others”…..Granni Nazzano “I’ve got a big scab on my leg. I’ll save it until tonight when I’m in bed”……Victoria Wood “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral or fattening”……Alexander Woollcott “The trouble with incest as a hobby is that it gets you involved with relatives”…… George S Kaufman “Incest – the game the whole family can play”…..James Agate “No hobbies. There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do”…….Bill Watterson “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work”…….Jerome K Jerome
Bright warm sunshine. Am I dreaming this or is it real? I had almost forgotten what my fellow hen-keepers looked like without their eskimo outfits, sadly I cannot report a dramatic change for the better. Michael Foot once remarked that old age is not all it’s cracked up to be and, on that at least, his words earn the approval of us all. And old age looms large in the story I would like to tell today, a story that shames us all.
Before I come to that it seems appropriate to draw a contrast, on the grounds that if one complains that someone is badly treated it triggers the question of compared to who. My contrast focuses on the 500 entrepeneurs and businessmen who have published a letter in the Daily Telegraph – where else. They are urging the Chancellor to scrap the 50 per ent tax rate. Their argument is, on the face of it, perfectly reasonable. They work their socks off, succeed where others haven’t even ventured, and then lose cash in extra tax. They are, it seems, utterly demoralised.
But the story concerns people who have far more reason to be demoralised. Today’s Guardian devotes a whole page to the plight of 88 year old Mary, who lives in Cornwall. Mary is deaf and partially blind and lives alone, having attended the funerals of most of her friends and relatives. She is old and “dreadfully vulnerable”. Mary reports that she can’t see or hear, so “it’s not safe to go outside my flat”. Inside her flat she can’t listen to the radio or watch TV, and struggles to read. Mary is “lonely and isolated”, and is “very scared” about the future.
Mary is not entitled to benefits and has to arrange, and pay for, such help as she can get. She pays a regular £40 for two hours of home-help from agency workers, but is obliged to book and interview them, a difficult task for someone who is deaf and almost blind. And she has had a poor experience with workers she has managed to book. One admitted leaving dirty washing in the sink on the grounds that Mary, being blind, wouldn’t worry about the sight anyway. Just getting through each day is a major struggle and loneliness is a poor companion.
Mary’s situation, bleak as it is, is far from unusual. Older women are disproportionately represented in the 2 million people aged over 65 in England today with care-related needs. They are even more over-represented in the nearly 800,000 older people who get no support and cannot afford a care home, even if they were prepared to abandon their treasured independence. We all know that on average men die younger than women and the result is that almost 80 per cent of women aged over 85 live alone, compared with 43 per cent of men.
Michelle Mitchell, director of Age UK, sums it up. “They are isolated in their own homes, without basic support to help with washing, going to the toilet, shopping and cleaning, let alone getting out and having fulfilling and dignified lives”, she confirms. This generation of women did not benefit from feminism and after a lifetime of caring for others, women in their 80s and 90s are being let down.
We all know that times are hard, we may not know that spending on older people’s care has been cut by almost 5% this year. When increasing needs are factored in, the shortfall for this year alone is £500 million. And even if this were not so, people like Mary would still receive no help. A study commissioned by the government into elderly care is under way but help for people like Mary is, at best, a long way off.
Every day we hear of the real priorities as seen by government, with the hugely expensive high-speed rail at the top of the list. We also hear a good deal about the tax-avoidance industry which robs the exchequer of zillions. Now we read of the demoralisation of our top businessmen because they cannot afford a second pony for their paddocks.
Yes, they at least have a case. But if today they read the story of Mary, they may decide that her need is greater than theirs.
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT SPORT; “For me the worst part of playing golf is hitting the ball”…..Dave Barry “Golf is s good walk spoiled”……Mark Twain “The worst thing I ever said to a tennis umpire was ‘Are you sure?’ “…..Rod Laver “Fishing is a jerk on one end of the line waiting for a jerk on the other end”…..Michael Palin “And so for the moment the Great Britain ladies hockey team is down to ten men”……David Harris, BBC “Working your triangles in your threes and fours”……Gerry Armstrong, Sky Sports 2 “To me boxing is like ballet, except there’s no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other”…..Murray Walker “Cornering is like bringing a woman to a climax”…….Jackie Stewart
If anyone knows the secret of keeping the roof of a hen run intact in a howling gale we codgers would love to hear from them. It has to be a transparent one, and every variety we have tried over the years has added to the traffic around Manchseter airport on days such as these. And should a well-worn cap be found, Knacker should refrain from launching a murder enquiry for it belongs to Albert the ferret-breeder.
We soon retreated to the relative calm of the clubhouse for a brew this morning, and a good deal of conversation centered around the number of fatal shootings over the holiday period. Yesterday saw another horrendous tragedy when a depressed taxi-driver shot his partner and two other women before turning the gun on himself. There will now be an investigation as to why his licence was not revoked following a review of a previous incident in 2008.
Michael Atherton had a licence to keep three shotguns and three “section one” weapons, six lethal weapons in all. Meantime another gun-owner, Kiaran Stapleton, appeared in court charged with the murder by shooting of an Indian university student. Asked his name, the accused replied that it was ‘Psycho’.
It is common knowledge in many of our inner cities that obtaining guns is easy. Obtaining a licence is not difficult either. In theory an applicant is interviewed and then reviewed every five years. In practice what happens is a formality often conducted by civilian clerks. In truth little can be done to halt the growth of guns short of a total ban. Right now gangs invariably have weapons at their disposal and the police have to arm by way of response. Any time now ordinary citizens will begin to buy guns as a precaution aginst intruders and that will prompt burglars to do likewise. Slowly but surely we will emulate America where the sound of shooting is, in many city areas, now commonplace.
So why do successive governments refuse to consider a total ban on guns of all description? Selling or owning a gun could be made illegal with heavy penalties for offenders. It would be much easier to enforce than licencing. The only even remotely logical argument against seems to be that the royal family, and thousands like them, would be denied their pleasures. But how important is human life?
The same question is today exercising the mind of no less a representative of the ruling classes than the Daily Telegraph. A letter signed by virtually every high-powered chief executive of a care-related public body, some fifty in all, demands action on behalf of almost one million elderly people who are being left without basic care. The letter calls for implementation of the Dilnot report which proposes sweeping chnages to social care. It talks of the plight of the elderly and infirm and warns that the NHS itself is in great danger as a result of an ever-increasing number of beds being occupied by patients who cannot be provided with care elsewhere.
I know all too well that what they say is true. The NHS is in terminal decline as a result of massive imposed cuts. It no longer has the staff to cope and we will all have read the much-publicised story of a granddaughter who slept on the floor alongside her gran for 12 days and, by ensuring that she was properly nursed and fed, saved her life. But many patients are not so fortunate.
Both the issues of guns and eledrly care raise the question of the value we place on human life be it at its beginning or end. Reforms cost money and we have to choose between tackling those who could afford to pay taxes and those whose lives depend on a fresh start.
The gift of life is a precious one but recognising that by action will involve painful decisions by politicians who bow the knee to the powerful and affluent. On the question of social care there does appear to be a political consensus so one can only hope that 2012 will be the year that marks real progress.
Knowing how long change takes it will sadly be too late to show many victims, both of crime and neglect, that we care. And it is no coincidence that Bupa is taking out full page ads in almost every daily paper!
It is time to batten down the hatches according to the weathermen. We’ve done our best on the allotments this morning and can now only pray that the talk of hurricane-force winds is wide of the mark. Should it happen expect to see a flock of chickens circling Manchester airport. The spectacle could even include a little fat chap since Albert insists he will stay with his flock if the worst develops!
So there is plenty to moan about this cold morning, and the one thing we are good at is moaning. But we realise that we are much blessed compared with the jobless and elderly who have effectively been left abandoned by a government continuing to stick to a fiscal plan that even Bladrick would recognise as unworkable.
Today we learn that unemployment is on course to hit 3 million for the first time in 20 years. We also learn that the desperately needed reforms to elderly care have been put back to 2025. Both situations are totally unacceptable, and will undoudtedly lead to social unrest in the first case and extreme hardship and cruelty in the second.
Yesterday brought Prime Minister’s Question Time and one would have expected a serious debate about a crisis rapidly spinning out of control. What did we get? A pathetic yah-hoo of childish taunts from Cameron and Miliband. The leader of the opposition did make the valid point that the government’s belief that cuts in public worker’s numbers would be offset by increases in the private sector has proved to be nonsense given that, in the absence of measures to boost growth, business volume is falling sharply. But from that point the two men turned the exchange into a comedy. Miliband taunted Cameron about his rift with Clegg, Cameron then focussed on the Miliband family divisions. They went on to enact a scene that resembled Captain Mainwaring’s set-to’s with Mr Hodges, the grocer/ARP chief. They undoubtedly went to bed chuckling, the jobless and elderly – if they watched this rubbish at all – probably shed tears on their pillows.
As each day passes it becomes ever more evident that Keynes was right. To beat recession there must be growth stimualtion aimed at encouraging consumer spending, albeit not based on debt. Unless Osborne changes tack the private sector will continue to contract. Given the choice the few companies that recruit will understandably select experienced applicants and the number of young people who have never worked will continue to rocket.
We already know that care for the elderly infirm is at breaking point and there have been various revelations of neglect and cruelty. Yesterday Lansley refused to rule out a new tax on pensioners to pay for the soaring costs of old age, and his advisers admitted that key parts of the proposed reforms may not take place until 2025. Spending cuts have already driven some care homes out of business, while inspectors have warned that elderly and vulnerable people are being abused by poorly trained helpers in their own homes.
Earlier this year, a government commission led by Andrew Dilnot, an economist, recommended a series of reforms including a plan for individuals to take out private insurance to cover the first £35,000 of any nursing or care home costs they might incur in old age. Costs would be capped and care bills over the £35,000 limit would be met by the state. He also recommended that short term measures were needed to protect those already in care.
That will of course cost money so the answer is no hope. Yet when the Olympic committee asks for a doubling of its budget for the opening ceremony the answer is go ahead. And the high-speed rail project is gobbling cash even before the controversial plan is approved.
We clearly have a strange sense of priorities compounded by an economic strategy that simply won’t work. But the worst fact of all is that our leading politicians don’t care. Both major parties are devoid of initiatives and intent only on point-scoring. Yes, the situation is serious but there seems to be no concern for either young people seeking work or elderly needing decent care.
We have lost our soul and there are no champions to point to a better tomorrow!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Rio de Janeiro 2. Australia and Tasmania 3. Cairo 4. Camp David 5. Martha’s Vineyard 6. Between East and West Berlin 7. Florida 8. Israel and Jordan 9. Iraq 10. Nile
As we tidied up after this morning’s encounter with the hordes of squabbling hens we suddenly realised that the time has come for our charity effort. Each year we try to raise cash for ‘Crisis’, the charity devoted to providing succour for the homeless. ‘Crisis’ estimates that there are tens of thousands of hidden homeless people in the UK. These people never show up on government statistics and exist in hostels, squats and squalid bed and breakfasts. They often lead miserable, isolated lives and often suffer from debilitating mental and physical health problems.
Appalling though that is, it is not new. What is new, and equally appalling, is the plight of vast numbers of the housebound elderly and frail. When the coalition enforced huge cuts in local authority funding it did ‘ring-fence’ the money allocated for social care. However, it did niothing to enforce this and right across the country councils have slashed the amounts allocated for what is laughably described as home-care. The result is that many councils now have reduced the time allowed for a home visit to 15 minutes and axed travel expenses. The result is that paid carers – doing tough and unpleasant work – rush from one house to another, can’t cope, and many are giving up in despair.
A report due this week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ERHC) will put flesh on the anecdotal evidence so far available. It will report on evidence of elderly people being left in filthy nightwear and bedding, of being left without a wash for several weeks, of being put to bed at 5.00pm and not helped to get up until 10.00am the next day. The picture that emerges is straight from the darkest episodes of Dickens.
Someone being supposedly cared for, and without family help, can lie for hours in their own mess, cold and frightened. They can be confused and haven’t taken their pills. They feel ashamed. They feel angry. It could be many hours before someone lets themselves in and washes them. The victim – for that is what they are – hopes for conversation but a carer with just 15 minutes to spare is hard pushed to even complete the basics. As quickly as they entered, they are gone. Silence, despair, all hope gone in an age where even the neighbours are often unknown.
Without doubt there is now a huge social problem, yet we hear little of it. These people can’t go out on the streets to march in protest, or camp outside a cathedral, or strike on November 30th. They are rarely mentioned on television, or interviewed on the Today programme. Anyone in a position of authority is much younger, has children at school and is desperately worried about their own job-security and financial survival. Frail old people are not even good vote-winning material. No one cares. Yet even if only for financial prudence they should, because inevitably this new hidden crisis is resulting in more and more elderly and neglected people being admitted to hospital, there to stay at high cost unless a beleagured social worker can find a solution that the meagre budget will facilitate.
I noticed a small paragraph in one of today’s newspapers. It describes how a pensioner spent two nights trapped in a cold garden shed after a fall. he had ventured that far in search of fuel. It was two days before anyone heard his cries for help and ambulance staff said that Ron Rogers from Rednal, Birmingham, was close to death after succumbing to hypothermia. Proud to be British? I think not.
Of course, now that the disgraceful situation has come under a spotlight the political blame game is underway. Paul Burstow, the care services minister and a LIb Dem MP, is demanding to know why councils are failing to pass on the funding allocated for the care of the frail and elderly. They are, he says, “clearly failing to act in the best interests of their residents”. They must, he thundered, “be held to account”. Indeed, two councils already have been. Sefton (Merseyside) and the Isle of Wight lost High Court cases to cut back on care for elderly and disabled adults. But should we really leave our hidden sufferers to the mercy of the Courts and posturing politicians.
At the last election the then Labour Party leadership demanded, during the televised debates, cross-party talks aimed at protecting the vulnerable from austerity measures. They saw the danger in this becoming an exercise in point-scoring. Andrew Lansley and David Cameron refused this. Now Labour is repeating the appeal and it must be heeded.
How can a society that once prided itself on care and compassion continue to spend huge sums on debatable projects, such as high-speed rail, whilst leaving vast numbers of those who, through no fault of their own, now lie forgotten and ignored?
We codgers realise that promoting the welfare of old ‘uns is not a popular activity. We realise too that some old folk can be difficult, and that there are many other vital priorities. But now the situation has been allowed to spiral out of control, and we are all unwittingly allowing suffering on a scale that has not happened in these islands for almost a century.
The only punch-line we can offer to the politicians is don’t just talk, for mercies sake do something!
The alternative to growing old is even worse and, as the hands on the clock move on, we codgers find ourselves taking an increasing interest in the standards of care provided for those whose bodies ultmately surrender. We were already aware of the painful fact that the standards of care for the elderly incapacitated are the worst in Europe, but now things are set to get a good deal worse. It frightens all whose limbs are beginning to rebel, it should shame everyone in the ‘big society’.
Government funding has been cut by almost a fifth, an horrendous amount given that the sum available was already inadequate. More than £1.3 billion has been removed from council’s annual spending on help for the over-65s since the Coalition came to power. The details have emerged from a House of Commons analysis and reveal that most councils are cutting all elderly services funding, even to the extent of increasing charges for such basic services as meals-on-wheels and home care. Nursing homes are in financial crisis after cuts to fees to cover specialist dementia care.
The result will be twofold. Many more elderly and frail patients will have to stay in hospitals which is a very expensive route. Even worse the quality of life of both patients and their families will be reduced drastically. Michelle Mitchell, the charity director of Age UK, says that “the care system is in crisis. We need the Governmnet to show leadership and make the difficult but vital decisions to reform our broken care system”. Emily Hilzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said many were suffering from “real terms cuts”. She said that “it is extremely worrying as we look at the impact on families’ lives. We know that families are already under an enormous amount of stress and that will only get worse with these cuts”.
In 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, councils spent £7.6 billion on social care for the elderly. This year, the figure is up to £1.3 billion lower. Last year George Osborne promised an extra £2 billion for councils to spend on care homes, meals on wheels and help for the elderly and disabled with daily tasks such as washing and dressing. Incredibly this money was not ‘ring-fenced’ and the vast majority of councils have allocated it elsewhere.
It is no coincidence that mental health social services are also in melt-down. For any government to simply leave councils to their own devices on such services is a crass deriliction of duties. Such services are what define a fair and caring society from one of a third-world one. To learn of such things on the day that it is announced that our donations to Brussels of £12.75 billion far exceed our benefits of £5.8 billion is truly infuriating!
We all know that there have to be cuts, but they have to be slanted to protect the vulnerable and affect those who can afford to economise. Yesterday we learned that the 100 FTSE top bigwigs received average pay rises of 49% over the past 12 months. Nick Clegg commented that they seem to live on another planet. Pity he supports a cabinet happy to allow such wanton greed to continue unchecked!
Despite what others say I have continued to believe that David Cameron, albeit somewhat out of touch with our new ‘underclass’, means well and will fight for justice against the Tory right. Having today read an article by the Speaker’s wife, Sally Burcow, I am beginning to wonder. According to her, Cameron says whatever it suits him to say at the time he’s saying it. Why? According to Mrs Bercow “he is out to get cheap applause or just to get his way”. When, she asks, “will the public look more closely and see that, far from being Mr Nice Guy, the PM is an arrogant bully who should be knocked off his pedestal and put in his place”.
Presumably the Conservative Speaker is well placed to make judgement on the Prime Minister and to pass it on in pillow talk. If he/she is correct, our suffering elderly may wait a very long time before suicide looks an attractive alternative to what they are going through!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. Wigan 2. William Wordsworth 3. North 4. Commonwealth Day 5. Wessex 6. Lisbon 7. Spirit in the Sky 8. Robert Plant 9 Freddie Starr 10. Joseph Lister
Since you are reading this the odds are that, like we old codgers on the allotments, you have not yet reached the age at which you require what is laughingly referred to as care. Our theory is that keeping poultry helps to ward off that dreaded time since we have no option, even on foul mornings such as this, to rise from our beds and to put in a hard working session. But the years tick by and time passes quickly and doubtless some of us will one day find ourselves unable to cope. The father of one of our members last month celebrated his 100th birthday but, after a fall, has had to lose his independence. He is blessed with caring children but, in this new age of logevity, even they are approaching eighty.
Some ten years ago I was part of a Health Authority team that inspected nursing and care homes. At that time the prospect of ‘going into care’ was not too daunting. Many of the homes we visited were state owned and manned by professional staff. There were then a large number of private homes and many of them were new and, in some cases, very comfortable. I remember visiting one such and being shown into the en-suite room of a resident. He had his own possessions around him, his hobbies, his privacy and a relaxed atmosphere. I could settle for this, was my verdict.
Today the situation is very different. We have truly returned to the age of Dickens, one in which the prospect of death is a welcome one. We have all seen recent exposes on TV, each portraying cruelty of an extreme kind. Perhaps we reassured ourselves with the thought that these were the rare exceptions and would soon be sorted out by social services and the police, in the unlikely event that they had enough staff to take action.
But these were not the exception, they are the rule. The last government presided over the closure of most state-owned establishments and declared that the flourishing private sector would provide. Unfortunately it also drastically reduced payment rates, and the many companies providing high standards of care either went out of business or cut their costs dramatically. Since most of every enterprise’s costs walk through the doors that meant reduced staffing and reduced pay. The result is that few of the carers have any qualifications, and all earn less than they could pocket by manning a supermarket check-out. And many have English as a second language.
I wouldn’t have ventured this Albert-like tale of doom had it not been for a report published yesterday by charities Age UK and The Health Foundation. I wouldn’t have done so because you might well have preferred not to believe it, we Brits have quite a track record in shutting our eyes to the horrors in our midst. But the report, which is based on in-depth interviews with relatives, describes a general situation in which elderly people have been left crying out in pain, with others given the wrong drugs, while families were not told about the health of their loved ones and actively discouraged fom visiting.
Seven out of ten care home residents are victims of drug errors, with elderly people being given the wrong medication, or not being monitored for side-effects. The report highlights concerns based on snap visits. “People were screaming out for their drugs, people with cancer, all sorts of painful stuff going on. Staff had no time to read crucial information about the medical and welfare needs of residents, with constant interruptions making mistakes more likely”. On one visit there was ” one young girl for 15 residents all in pain, they had had no breakfast”. On another “sleeping pills were given out during the day, leaving residents unsteady on their feet. Creams were shared leading to infections”. Yet another saw a previously independent lady of 94 deprived of her medical prescriptions which she brought with her…”her eye drops for glaucoma, and cream and splints for arthritis were locked away. She became withdrawn and depressed and was forced to take antidepressants which she repeatedly said she did not want or need”.
There is also a good deal about the breakdown of communications between care homes and hospitals. One family reported being shocked when their mother went into hospital where the nurses said that she seemed confused. The care home staff had failed to enter any record of her having dementia. In another case an elderly resident was transferred by ambulance in a serious condition. Instead of daily paracetamol she had been given a high-risk drug and three members of staff had made a similar mistake in the space of one week. Another ambulance case involved repeated doses of codeine despite warnings on her medical records that the drug made her very ill.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the report is that most relatives and residents were only prepared to be interviewed on condition of anonymity. Almost everyone said that there was a real risk of reprisals against anyone found to have complained. In view of the summary that is less than surprising. Neil Duncan-Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention remarked that when you have a system that has badly paid, poorly trained staff administering to the most vulnerable and dependent people in society, those are the ingedients for a system to fail. “The accounts”, he added, ” are gut wrenching, you would think that in the 21st century we would have moved far beyond this”.
But we haven’t, in fact we have regressed. The elderly of today are receiving treatment barely better that that of Dicken’s workhouses. Times may be hard financially but something has to be done. A Conservative government – I have given up on pretending that the Lib Dems have any influence – is hardly likely to switch from Blair’s beloved private sector. It must therefore increase the rewards and increase the standards.
Can’t afford it? Perhaps we should look again at crazy actions such as those in Libya where we have already blown away, literally, almost a billion pounds. Throw in the huge amounts being paid to the EU, and the equally huge amounts lost through tax avoidance by the rich and the corporates and you have enough to build a thousand top-class care homes.
And in any case there comes a time when humanity must take precdence over money, when care for the vulnerable deserves more of a prime minister’s time than his media buddies and his smooth PR. David Cameron likes to talk of love, it is time that he showed some!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. A bear 2. Graham Hill 3. The Booker Prize 4. Reet Petite 5. A fish 6. Cat Stevens 7. Spring 8. Roots Hall 9. Both beheaded 10. Rattlesnakes.