Home care services should enable older people to enjoy the highest quality of life in their own home, and to maintain their independence for as long as possible.
As a bare minimum, older people should receive patient assistance with personal care tasks that they are unable to complete themselves, with full respect for their dignity.
However, allowing home care workers time for a friendly chat shouldn’t be regarded as an added indulgence, but an important part of the quality care they receive. Extreme loneliness is a health risk on a par with life-long smoking, and that human touch is just one of the small interactions that can relieve isolation and make a massive contribution to an individual’s wellbeing.
It’s therefore alarming that, in Edinburgh, home care visits of just seven minutes are taking place, which simply isn’t acceptable on human rights grounds. These practices should be challenged through the council’s complaints procedure in the first instance and, should that fail to deliver adequate change, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
This problem isn’t unique to Edinburgh, however, as highlighted in a recent Unison freedom of information request which revealed that 28 Scottish councils are scheduling home care visits of just 15 minutes’ duration. You could arguably heat and serve a meal in that time, but when it comes to help with dressing and washing, the visit is likely to be rushed and could well cause anxiety and distress.
Of course, money is tight. Scotland-wide spending on free personal and nursing care by councils has increased from £133 million to £347m in under a decade.
Nevertheless, in view of our ageing population and the drive to support older people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, this increase is hardly a surprise. It also needs to be compared with the costs we would incur were older people not supported in this way, with many more spending time unnecessarily in hospital.
With the Scottish Government’s move to integrated health and social care budgets we should, in future, get a better picture of the combined cost of these services. Our hope and expectation is that this will show that the increase will be more manageable in future, as preventative spending bears fruit.
As our MSPs scrutinise the current Public Bodies (Joint Working) Scotland Bill – the Scottish Government’s vehicle for health and social care integration – we would ask that they keep foremost in their minds the importance of underpinning it with human rights principles.
Without this, it risks becoming yet another technocratic exercise merely aimed at rejigging the wiring in our public services rather than delivering real change for Scotland’s older people.
• Doug Anthoney is communication and campaigns officer at Age Scotland