“I’ve never felt so alone.” Those were the words a man in his 80s used to tell me how he felt, after his wife of more than 50 years was diagnosed with dementia. His words have stuck in my mind because his experience seems to sum up the stories that too many people tell when they need social care. A consultant had delivered the life-changing news to this man and his wife, then said, “I’ll see you in six months.” They were handed a leaflet and they left, his wife unable to comprehend what they’d been told so the weight rested on his shoulders.
The diagnosis was delivered by the NHS, but with a condition like dementia you largely step into another world, the world of social care. Social care is provided by local authorities and only to those with very high needs and limited savings. Everyone else pays for themselves. We’re talking about the support someone may need with everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and getting in and out of bed. If a person has dementia it is often about keeping them safe. When I met this man, he had been his wife’s main carer for several years, helped by their daughters. He paid for extra support, but only wanted to leave her with the right person, someone he could trust.
Social care uncertainty
The cost of the extra help was draining their savings, making him worry about how he will cope in the longer term. It is pressure that made him fear for his own health. However, if we get social care right then it should keep people out of hospital and there’s the rub. We’ve seen the recent pressures on accident and emergency and what happens to the health service, when there isn’t enough care in place in the community to either prevent problems or to help people recover at home. Social care certainly isn’t the only reason why hospitals started the year struggling, but it is a significant factor.