Parliamentary Sketch : A failure that would be careless

A key measure of how civilised we are is our attitude to those who depend on others for their care.

In spite of deep poverty I have been humbled to witness how civilised some of the poorest communities are in the least developed societies in the world.

This week I joined fellow Health Select Committee members to look at the challenging questions of providing social care for those who need it; the sick, the elderly, the disabled.

We take for granted our health and well being when we’re well. But most of us will need to be cared for at some point in our adult lives, whether we like it or not.

The Government estimates that carers – mainly family members and friends – provide at least £119 billion of voluntary care each year. Just to place that in context; that overshadows the whole of the budget for our NHS – at £100 billion per annum. But, of course, family volunteers can’t provide all care needs.

Carers in Cornwall and on Scilly are a substantial army. Over 15 in every 100 homes have at least one person who cannot manage entirely on their own and need help. That’s about 35,000 homes, involving nearly 60,000 carers.

Because caring for a loved one (husband, wife, mother, father, etc) is part of the duty which comes with the bond of any family relationship, many do not always see what we do in such formal terms. “Carer”? No not me. I’m his brother, wife, mother, etc.

But what if we could not perform these duties? What then? Who would do the caring?

That’s where the state and our own resources come in and that raises questions of what services the state should and what if should not or cannot provide.

We visited Torbay on Monday. They’ve agreed to make sure that health services and local authority social services work together in the same building, using the same telephone number and the same budget. They’ve found that this is much better and simpler for patients, carers and families; that it saves money; and that it provides better services more quickly to those who need it.

To use money better in the NHS we have to keep people well at home longer and make sure that hospitals can safely discharge patients earlier with better care packages to aid recovery. A good social care system is essential. It has been an expensive holy grail which successive governments have failed to find the answer to.

We’re hoping to push the Government in the right direction.

17th January 2012

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