Helen Martin: Tough calls await to pay for cost of care

Living longer means potentially high costs of care. Picture: Esme Allen
Living longer means potentially high costs of care. Picture: Esme Allen
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WHEN UK health minister David Mowat called for a change in the way we look after our elderly and said the responsibility of care should rest with families and not the state, several right-wing newspaper columnists and commentators backed his views.

To some, it comes across as a sound moral argument, a fair criticism of heartless, selfish offspring who pack their parents off into a home at the first opportunity. It’s a condemnation of modern family life in comparison to the old tradition of grannies and grandads in their latter years being cared for at home by loved ones.

Scotish Health Secretary Shona Robison

Scotish Health Secretary Shona Robison

Unfortunately that point of view is anachronistic and flawed and will only serve to burden families with unnecessary guilt.

My granny lived all her life in a thatched cottage in Ireland with no mod cons. Even washing bed linen involved drawing water up from the well, boiling it in a kettle over a turf fire, tipping kettle after kettle into a tub in the yard and hand scrubbing the sheets before drying them on bushes.

There was no NHS there and then. She had 11 children born at home, two of whom died at birth, and as she aged she developed a humped back through osteoporosis. She was looked after by my aunts and uncles who lived with her, though we all went to visit. She had all her “marbles” and liked to do little jobs such as laying the table but after two strokes in close succession, she died at 86 in the late Seventies.

My mother had a different life, a modern one with plentiful, free health care, and no “hard labour” though she was committed to her nursing career.

She too was looked after by the family for many years after she retired but by 91, serious dementia had developed. She became nocturnal, subject to terrifying hallucinations and physically frail with skin that broke and peeled with the slightest contact. No-one in the family was equipped to meet her needs. She died at 98 after seven years in a nursing home during which she needed 24-hour, specialist nursing care and support from professionals who know how to deal with the mental deterioration and complexities advanced dementia brings.

That’s the pattern of age and death now. Life is easier. Diseases and conditions that once resulted in earlier “pre-dementia” death are now treatable and curable. Put simply, living longer has its down side, the main one being soaring rates of dementia and such eventual physical frailty both of which require care way beyond the ability of lay family members.

David Mowat may well be thinking of the cost of elderly care to the state. But it is wrong to blame families for shirking their responsibilities, or to suggest they are putting their own interests first. They have no choice. Nor do they save their own finances by leaving £2k to £3k a month care home fees to the public purse. The State only steps in when most of the individual’s assets have been exhausted so relatives also lose out on what they might have inherited.

There is only one answer now and that’s for the Government to slash foreign aid, Trident renewal and any other money that can be properly redirected to the correct priority of caring for our people.

Here’s to you, Ms Robison..

SCOTTISH Health Secretary Shona Robison has spoken out about her divorce from MP Stewart Hosie, but in a Holyrood rather than a Hollywood way.

For the likes of Liz Taylor, Joan Collins, Rod Stewart and other stars whose shoes last longer than their marriages, headlines and snatched paparazzi shots with the “other” man or woman are all grist to the publicity mill.

But for “normal” people, having to endure betrayal and divorce in the spotlight must be horrendous.

In Ms Robison’s case she also had to cope with the effect on her family, the death of her mother and visiting her father in a dementia unit.

Her message now almost a year on (devoid of any vengeful attacks on her ex) is that through her troubles she found inner strength, insight and the ability to move on.

That in itself will help others going through marital breakdown.

Let’s roll out welcome mat

I FAIL to see the point of banning Trump from a State visit to meet the Queen. It’s a classic opportunity of giving him enough rope to hang himself. Can’t wait.

How will they make vision a reality?

THANKS to 6000 responses to the’2050 Edinburgh City Vision’ campaign, the conclusion is that the Capital aims to be “the world’s greenest, safest and most affordable city with happy and fulfilled residents”. Poverty will be eradicated in a city of equal opportunity.

Well that sounds great, doesn’t it? The campaign found agreement and cohesion between business leaders, charities, school pupils and leaders in education and health.

It reminded me of the clichéd replies from Ye Olde Miss World contestants who, when asked for their wishes, would respond with “World peace” or “Love and happiness for all”.

Well I certainly won’t be around to see it, but before I go I would like to see at least some indication of how the powers that be expect all this will be achieved. A draft document will emerge in summer to guide investment and strategy over the next 30 years. And at Christmas, maybe a letter to Santa?