Barnsley Chronicle Column: The cost of care

It’s reassuring to know that, should you need urgent medical care, then you can turn up at the hospital A&E department and – even if you have to wait a while – you’ll get seen and treated.

But what if you need longer term care after the initial treatment? What if you have an accident and become disabled? What if your health deteriorates and you need help at home? Or you just reach an age where you can no longer cope on your own?

This kind of care, known as ‘social care’, is increasingly in demand, especially when people are living longer. But there’s no automatic right that you will get it if you need it. It certainly isn’t part of the ‘free at the point of use’ NHS we all hold in such high esteem.

Many people have to rely on friends and relatives to provide the care they need. There are countless stories of dedicated carers like this who work hard to look after the people they love – spouses, siblings, parents, cousins, neighbours and friends. Some are even school children, caring for a parent.

However, not everyone has a network of support to rely on. This can create problems in hospitals when patients, who should be discharged, can’t get the care package they need at home. They are left taking up much-needed beds in hospitals, creating bottlenecks through no fault of their own.

The situation hasn’t been helped by some of the Government’s recent changes. The Care Act became law last year and puts lots of responsibility on local councils to assess people’s care packages. The aim may have been to ensure that new, tighter rules provide people with the same entitlements to care, wherever they live; however, in reality the Government has not provided the money needed to make it work. In fact,

budgets have been drastically cut. As ever, David Cameron is passing the buck, passing the cuts down to councils to make them appear as the bad guys.
Many different kinds of care are actually provided by private companies. Some employ domiciliary carers who visit people in their homes; others run care homes where people stay, either permanently or for periods of time to recuperate.

We have all heard stories of care visits that only last 15 minutes; or care workers who provide a great service but aren’t paid for their travel time between employers. It can quickly become a race to the bottom. I fear for those independent local companies who may get elbowed out of the market. Many larger companies can run these services as a ‘loss leader’ – able to swallow not making a profit from the contract because of their other more profitable services.

I know that Barnsley Council is working with local providers to move to a system that is more concerned with the difference the care makes to the patient, rather than being focused on ‘time and task’.

The council has also been given the power to raise more money from the Council Tax to fund social care. However, this approach means that those councils with wealthier populations will be able to raise more money – yet another sign of this Government favouring its own and leaving the rest of the country behind.

The care system is buckling under pressure and, with an aging population and services stretched to the limit, it’s not going to get any easier. Every one of us could end up needing to be looked after at some point in our life. So we must find a way to ensure that care services are not the poor relation of the NHS.

This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on the 20th May 2016


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