Britain: No care for the aged
Last week the TV screens brought us images resembling a re- enactment of some Royal occasion from the 19th century. We saw Her Royal Majesty in full regal costume, glittering with diamonds, and riding high on a carriage and wallowing in all the pomp and ceremony was George Dubya. It was certainly a great photo opportunity for the women's magazines and padding news broadcasts. What we did not see was the real England under Tory "New Labor" leader Tony Blair. The following article from New Worker, paper of the New Communist Party of Britain, shows real life for elderly people who do not wear tiaras. A Mori poll commissioned by the public sector union, Unison, found that 75 per cent of adults think the Government should provide free personal care for all elderly people who need it. And the BBC's poll for its Your NHS (National Health Service) day found that free long-term care of the elderly was the public's top priority. While great strides have been made in Scotland and some progress in Wales and the north of Ireland, older people in England who need personal or nursing care face means-testing and bills running into the thousands. The Royal Commission on Long-Term Care presented its report in 1999. It made 24 recommendations and the Government accepted and implemented many of these. But it rejected the key one on personal care and insists on means-testing. This is degrading and impoverishes older people. Many people who are by no means wealthy but who have a small amount of savings and/or own their own home are forced to deplete their savings and sell their home to fund their care. Around 70,000 people had to sell their homes last year to pay for their care. Outside of Scotland, all personal care (help with washing, feeding, dressing, bathing and so on) continues to be means tested. Only those with capital/savings under L18,500 (approx. A$45,000) get their personal care needs provided free. The Government says it has introduced free nursing care for older people in nursing homes. But what is "free" nursing care? "Nursing care" is restricted to the care provided by a registered nurse. This means the care provided by nursing and healthcare assistants is classified as "personal care" and has to be paid for. Scotland is paving the way in the provision of state-funded personal care. As of July 2002, free nursing and personal care came a step closer thanks to the introduction of a series of grants and allowances for people receiving care. Nightmare of private agencies A BBC Panorama programme earlier this month exposed the appalling levels of services provided by many private agencies who are contracted by local authority social service departments to visit the elderly in their own homes to provide personal and nursing care. Visits are often missed and patients left in urine-soaked beds for long hours. Care workers are untrained and do not know how to lift them onto commodes, how to wash them or provide basic care. They are also under pressure to work very quickly. An under-cover reporter who took a job with one of the agencies said that when she arrived at the home of one helpless 92-year- old, after giving her a meal, did not know how to move her on the a commode (a job that in hospital would require two nurses working together). When she called her employer for advice, she was told to put a clean incontinence pad over the dirty one. "It's bad enough going into someone's home and trying to help them without a clue what they need or how to do it", said the reporter. "It's even worse when you phone the people who are supposed to support you and they can't help. It just makes you feel completely useless." The reporter was supposed to see 10 people a day — then another four were added. She said: "I had no idea I would be as upset by what I saw as I have been . it's made me terrified of getting old". Carers are paid around L4.80 (A$12) an hour for this work. The Right to Care campaign The Right to Care campaign last week handed a 100,000-signature petition into Number Ten Downing Street to demand that long-term care of the sick and elderly should be available free on the NHS. Right to Care is campaigning for all nursing and personal care to be free at the point of use across Britain. Over 20 national organisations, including Unison, want all of the recommendations of the Royal Commission to be implemented. This includes its central recommendation that all nursing and personal care should be available on the basis of need, free at the point of use and funded from general taxation.