Former Pensions Minister Warns Of Care Crisis

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The Law Of... not caring for the elderly

Lady Ros Altmann, Pensions Minister under David Cameron, has warned that Britain is in danger of "sleepwalking into a social care crisis".

The UK Could Be Walking Into Elder Care Crisis, Former Pension Secretary Warns

Lady Altmann, who was replaced as Pensions Minister during Theresa May's cabinet reshuffle, has claimed that a continued care crisis is pushing the NHS in England to breaking point.

The comments have raised a number of wider questions about the cost of care in England and how care shortages are increasing the pressure on the NHS.

Addressing some of these common questions, Daxa Patel – Partner in Simpson Millar's Medical Negligence team and a former Community Care lawyer – explains how the current care system is in dire need of an overhaul.

Who Currently Pays For Care?

The elderly currently face a postcode lottery relating to the cost of their care, with individual councils controlling the budget that can be afforded for helping those who need nursing home places or help with tasks in their own home.

In many instances, provisions are means tested, meaning that only the most needy are given provisions for their continuing care.

In her comments, Lady Altmann is claiming that the government should implement new policies to ensure that the elderly can access adequate care services when they need them.

Suggestions included tax incentives for care providers, essentially creating eldercare scheme that would work in a similar way to childcare vouchers, and a purpose-built ISA that can be used to save up for care provisions in later life.

Ultimately, the current system means that the value of care covered by councils varies in different regions and often leaves the elderly with hefty bills that require them to sell their assets.

The system also causes confusion about who should be funding their own care, which can give rise to care homes charging fees incorrectly, which residents will then have to claim back.

Why Do Care Delays Cost The NHS?

Lady Altmann's comments came as she claimed that the cost of care to the NHS is pushing the health service to breaking point in England, as an underfunding of care services is causing hospitals to care for elderly patients who cannot be released without other care provisions in place.

It is estimated that, across the entire NHS, patients can spend a collective 61,000 days waiting for care in a single month; this is because frail patients cannot be discharged from the NHS without other care provisions in place, whether that is a place in a dedicated nursing home or care arranged in-house to help with everyday tasks.

With patients increasingly delayed in hospitals, instead of being passed over to more appropriate care, there are increased costs to the NHS and of course the elderly patient is not receiving the best possible care by NHS staff, who are already overstretched.

How Can We Support The Elderly?

Lord Altmann makes a number of recommendations that could ensure that the elderly are receiving better care, namely incentives that will encourage them to put money away for care in later life.

It is claimed that this will stop the burden on overstretched council budgets and will ensure that the elderly will be able to afford a better standard of care when they need.

Expenditure in real terms for adult social services has been in a trend of decline for the last six years, despite expenditure in cash terms increasing significantly; showing that cash injections may not necessarily equate to improved services.

It is also important to note that the council care budget, which will increase to £19.7 billion in 2016-17, is not exclusively for elderly residents within a budget; last year only 53% of social care expenditure went on those over the age of 65, with the other 47% being spent on those aged 18-64.

However, Daxa believes that simply addressing funding issues will not best help the elderly, who face a care system wrought with low standards that does not have suitable regulation.

Of the crisis facing social care in Britain, Daxa – who first set up and lead Simpson Millar's Care Home team, said:

"The current situation is absolutely dire. The care industry at best has little regulation and the most vulnerable in our society are neglected. The care Quality Commission cannot address these issue alone, they need more support."

"While talking about the crisis, as Lord Altmann has done, is a step in the right direction a firm commitment is needed from the Government and those in the care sector to bring about watertight legislation to support and protect the elderly."

"Unfortunately, we deal with so many tragic cases of elder neglect, abuse, bed sores, and falls in both care homes and hospitals; frankly these incidents should never be happening."

"We also have to consider how our struggling care system is causing further delays and additional pressures on the NHS, which only increases the likelihood of patients receiving negligent healthcare."

"Ultimately, we have to ask; what does this say about us if as a society we cannot protect those who can't speak for themselves?"


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