95 people die waiting for care in Edinburgh

There are long waits to receive care in the Capital. File picture: comp
There are long waits to receive care in the Capital. File picture: comp
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NINETY-FIVE people in Edinburgh died last year while waiting for the council to provide them with a care package, shocking new figures revealed today.

Campaigners, unions and care companies all said extra cash was urgently needed to tackle a “cruel crisis” in social care.

Behind these figures are real people with stories of desperation, misery and indignity.

Gordon Aiken

The figures also showed there were 400 people in the Capital waiting for care, nearly 4000 hours of unmet demand for care and one person who had to wait nearly two years for a care package.

The revelations came as the city council prepares to make swingeing cuts of £163 million over four years as a result of a funding squeeze.

Edinburgh-based Motor Neurone Disease patient and campaigner Gordon Aikman, who obtained the data under freedom information, said: “Behind these figures are real people with stories of desperation, misery and indignity.”

Across Scotland, a total of 276 sick and disabled people died last year while waiting for care packages to start.

Edinburgh – which uses a mix of its own staff and contracted private firms – accounted for almost a third of that total, recording more deaths than any other council and also the worst figures on waiting times and numbers.

Mr Aikman said: “With hundreds of Scots dying for care, this study lays bare a cruel crisis in care caused by cuts to our councils. Imagine it was your mum or your son waiting months for the help they need to live their life.

“Given our parliament now has revenue-raising powers, it need not be this way. A caring, compassionate Scottish Government would end the cuts, properly invest in social care and pay care workers the Living Wage they deserve.”

Ranald Mair, chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents providers of care-at-home services, warned that without increased funding such provision would be under threat, especially in Edinburgh. He said when care companies in the Capital were recruiting they faced competition from both the retail and hospitality sectors. “Often they just can’t find people to do the job,” he said. “In Edinburgh if you want people to look after frail elderly people, you’re going to have to pay more than Lidl, Aldi and the hotels,

“If Edinburgh is going to meet the needs of people requiring care and succeed in recruiting staff, it’s going to need improved funding. We’re asking people to look after our parents for less money than stacking shelves in a supermarket. That can’t be right.

“We are nearing a crisis in social care. If, come April, providers have to meet increases in the minimum wage and that is not matched by an increase in funding from the councils and the Government, services will become non-viable, people will get out of care and we will see increasing numbers of people going without help.

“Older people have paid their dues. Although there are difficult decisions on funding, I think most people in Scotland would say caring properly for our elderly was one of the priorities we ought to stick to.”

COMMENT: The system is creaking at the seams

A spokeswoman for Unison in Edinburgh said it was notoriously difficult for care providers to recruit and retain staff. Across the UK, 40 per cent of care workers left their jobs within one year and 65 per cent within two years.

She said: “Social care is seen as a second or third choice occupation where there is a choice – and Edinburgh is a high-employment city.

“If you get £7.65 as a care worker and have to cope with travel and bodily fluids and shift work and lifting and aggression or £7.85 for sitting on a till, which are you going to choose?”

She said 75 per cent of social care provision in Edinburgh was outsourced and 25 per cent still provided by the council.

“Several care agencies in Edinburgh have withdrawn from contracts with the council because they could not staff the services they were committed to provide.

“Care work has always been seen as women’s work and therefore undervalued.

“The council is struggling financially. Without more money going into social care the problem is not going to be resolved quickly and it is not the council’s fault. Lothian has lost about 1200 hospital beds in the past 20 years.

“The Scottish Government is very vocal about ring-fencing the NHS, but social care needs to be able to pick up people who don’t need to be in hospital – it’s all part of a continuum.”

City council health and social care convener Councillor Ricky Henderson said the council delivered more than 80,000 hours each week to 5000 adults.

“The provision of care at home is under pressure, but everyone who is assessed as needing care and meets our eligibility criteria will receive it, with the most vulnerable being prioritised. It is really important to note that most of the people waiting for a package in Edinburgh will already be receiving care in some form.

“We are working to increase the number of hours of care being delivered – all of our staff are paid the Living Wage, and we give incentives to care providers to encourage them to pay staff in the same way. A new tender for home care is being sought at the moment, which should increase levels of delivery across the city. We are working with our partners in the voluntary sector and housing associations to find new ways of delivering home care services.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said a £250m investment was being made in social care across Scotland.

“I deeply regret anyone having to wait longer than necessary to receive their care package and we will continue to work hard with councils to improve provision,” she said.

“We are committed to supporting councils, NHS boards and integrated health and social care partnerships to ensure that their social care packages are arranged effectively to meet the needs of local people.

“In partnership with local government, we are integrating health and social care services to support better provision of care within communities and in people’s homes. Edinburgh has been allocated an additional £8.19m from the Integrated Care Fund for 2015/16 and over £2.4m additional investment to help reduce delayed discharge from hospital this year.”

CASE STUDY: ‘Carers are my freedom’

Imagine not being able to get out of bed by yourself. Imagine not being able to wash, dry, dress or feed yourself. Imagine not being able to turn the pages of this newspaper. For some people in Edinburgh – me included – that is everyday life.

Without carers, my life would be impossible. Carers administer my cocktail of drugs. Carers help me on and off the toilet. Carers are my hands, my arms and my legs. They are my independence, my freedom.

Paralysed by Motor Neurone Disease, I am dependent on carers.

With no cure for the thing that is killing me, carers do more to improve the quality of my life than any doctor ever could.

And they allow me not just to live, but to enjoy life. Yet the way they are treated could not be more different. That can and must change.

My positive experience of a small, family-run homecare company in Edinburgh is far from universal.

Cash-strapped councils – starved of resources by the Scottish Government – are forced to prioritise low cost over quality.

Packages of care are approved, but there aren’t the carers to pick up the work. Too many people in Edinburgh are waiting too long for the help they need. Behind these figures are real people with stories of desperation, misery and indignity. Imagine it was your mum or your son that was being denied help.

An ageing population means pressure on the care system will only increase. As we live longer, we all have an interest in getting this right.

It’s time for our parliament to be bold. It is time to invest in the National Care Service our country needs and pay carers the Living Wage they deserve.

How many more people must die waiting for care before our politicians listen?

• Diagnosed at 29 years old, Gordon Aikman (@GordonAikman) is a Motor Neurone Disease patient and campaigner in Edinburgh. To donate to his campaign to find a cure, text MNDS85 £5 to 70070 or visit GordonsFightback.com

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com