The Guardian November 26, 2003


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.

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