By Debbie le Quesne

Archive for December 2012

Facing the New Year with political ditherers

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A New Year is about to break upon us. But the certainties we have sought from Government on the future of care funding are still as illusive as ever.

We don’t know for sure what the coalition will commit to in 2013 but the steer, according to one respected broadsheet, is that to lower the cost to an acceptable half a billion pounds the government will raise the cap on an individual’s contribution to as high as £75,000.

The well-meaning aims of Dilnot “will be somewhat undermined” as one journalist puts it.

Dead right it will and if it IS the case, countless more elderly will lose their homes to fund their shortfall.

What’s more, we have no further indication how local authorities will fare in the New Year. Will they get a compassionate handout from Whitehall? I don’t thing so either.

And what about the looming issue of social care insurance? Things seem very quite on that front too.

Taxation is used to pay for policing, for infrastructure, for defence, for education, for research and development and  . . . care?

In a Sunday Observer article Will Hutton sums it up like this: “To say that part of our taxes – we know not what – is for care in old age is to dodge the political question. You end up with what we have: politicians not daring to do what they must, culminating in a fudge.”

I would love at this point of the blog to tender solutions, but frankly I have none. I am, however, becoming quite proficient as one who puts out the many fires caused by our political ditherers.

Have a great New Year . . .

One solution: How Germany is dealing with its aged population

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It’s that awkward time between Christmas and New Year when people raid the sales and recover from festive excess. I have struggled to find a worthy blog – but Santa never disappoints those who have been good – and I have been good!

I’ve stumbled on a choice solution for dealing with the increased costs of care: Find an export market.

And that’s just what’s happening in Germany. Growing numbers of elderly and sick Germans are being sent overseas for long-term care in retirement and rehabilitation centres.

Why? Because it’s cheaper, I’m shocked by such an extreme solution but it’s only a matter of time before the government catch on to this model.

The move, which has seen thousands of retired Germans rehoused in homes in eastern Europe and Asia, has been severely criticised by social welfare organisations who have called it “inhumane deportation”.

Already, I have uncomfortable images from modern history . . . trains full of Jews. Stop it, Debbie!

But with increasing numbers of Germans unable to afford the growing costs of retirement homes, and an ageing and shrinking population, the number expected to be sent abroad in the next few years is only likely to rise. Experts describe it as a “time bomb”.

Like so many places in the UK, Germany’s care sector has employed eastern Europeans migrants to care for the country’s elderly.

But the transfer of old people to eastern Europe is being seen as a new and desperate departure, indicating that even with imported, cheaper workers, the system is unworkable.

Germany has one of the fastest-ageing populations in the world and I fear the implications of this social trend on other western countries – including Britain.

The Sozialverb and Deutschland (VdK), a German socio-political advisory group, said: “We simply cannot let those people who built Germany up to be what it is, who put their backbones into it all their lives, be deported. It is inhumane.”

Researchers found an estimated 7,146 German pensioners living in retirement homes in Hungary in 2011. More than 3,000 had been sent to homes in the Czech Republic, and there were more than 600 in Slovakia. There are also unknown numbers in Spain, Greece and Ukraine. Thailand and the Philippines are also attracting increasing numbers.

Clearly this is an appalling situation. Let’s hope not too many of the Cabinet read the broadsheets.

Written by debbielq

December 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm

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The alternative office party

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Amidst all the seasonal gloom, there’s a lovely tale of a Brighton firm that have opened their premises to a bunch of old people and staged an alternative office party.

Some 120 elderly spend the afternoon using the office facilities to call family and friends and celebrate the festive period with staff.

Isn’t this lovely?

Savings firm Family Investments organised the event in partnership with Age UK Brighton & Hove.

“This is a fantastic event that offers a vital service for older people at Christmas time.” said Family Investments Community Officer Faye Russell,

“We clear one floor of our offices so people can come along and use the phones to call their relatives for free. Those attending also bring in their Christmas cards to write and Family Investments pays for the postage.

“The social side is a big part of the event,” continued Faye in the World News Report article, “A lot of the elderly that come along don’t get to see many people throughout the year, so it’s a great opportunity to get together with others and have a chat over a cup of tea and a mince pie.

“Staff are also on hand to help people write their cards or assist with looking up addresses and phone numbers.”

The event also received support from other local businesses with gifts and food being supplied free for the event.

This wonderful initiative comes at a time when the Daily Mail tells us there are three million elderly set to have a miserable Christmas.

The findings are taken from an Age UK survey, with some 840,000 over 65s struggling to deal with the memories of lost loved-ones at this time of year.

Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said: “Living in isolation and loneliness is a stark reality for too many people in later life.

“The adverse impact on a  person’s well-being of feeling lonely has been likened to that of obesity and smoking.”

Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign is one of the charities benefiting from ITV’s three-hour Text Santa show tonight.

Host Christine Bleakley said: “Christmas is a vulnerable time for people who are on their own.

“Our message is a special one – at Christmas it’s important to get back to basics and let people know that they’re not alone and that there are people out there willing to listen and help.

“We want people to watch the show, hear the stories and if you have anything to spare at all and would very kindly put it in our direction, it will be going towards a good cause.’”

Happy Christmas . . . and let’s try to be aware of our elderly at this time.


Written by debbielq

December 21, 2012 at 7:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

More cuts, more pain and a scary warning from local authorities

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Birmingham City Council is among others which has warned of a looming financial crisis if the trajectory of cuts still being demanded by government is not revised.

Along with the leaders of Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester local authorities say the scale of the expected cuts imposed by ministers means that vital services will no longer be able to be protected.

The letters sent to government communities secretary Eric Pickles warned with many authorities will be reduced to providing a skeleton service consisting of social care and waste disposal by the end of the decade.

News of the local authorities’ action was broken by The Guardian yesterday.

“Financially weak councils will go bust and others will be forced to drastically reduce services to cope with cuts to town hall budgets outlined by ministers,” the newspaper reported.

The warning came after government revealed that councils in England would face spending reductions of up to 8.8 per cent from April, with an average cut of 1.7 per cent.

Mr Pickles has described the settlement as fair and said the onus was now on councils to do more to cut costs and pursue “sensible savings” to protect public services.

He has published a document outlining how councils could make extra savings. And here we go . . . they include scrapping the post of chief executive, cutting translation services by printing official documents in English only, opening coffee shops in libraries, and banning the provision of mineral water at council meetings.


If this is the caliber of creative thinking at the top, what hope is there for the rest of us?

He was quoted as saying: ”Councils that put their thinking caps on now can save precious taxpayer pennies next year by cutting out waste and transforming frontline services that vulnerable people rely on.”

With respect, Mr Pickles, you appear to be in denial of reality.

The shadow communities and local secretary, Hilary Benn, also seems to think the same, being quoted as saying: “It is clear that he [Pickles] is living in a world of his own because he simply does not understand the impact that his decisions on funding are having on the services and local people who use and rely upon them.”

Joanna Killian, chair of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, said: “This settlement will increase the risk of more councils being financially.”

Already our local authorities have made huge savings and not least in social care. Their actions have already compromised the daily viability of care and nursing homes as well as other care provisions with unrealistic increases in bed fees being paid.

Happy Christmas everyone . . .

Written by debbielq

December 20, 2012 at 8:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Disabled good as gold – but attitudes are still shameful

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It doesn’t seem many weeks ago I was blogging about the Paralympics and trumpeting the new realisation which seemed so apparent that disabled people were quite literally good as gold.

So I was really shocked last night to hear on the news that the Games, which were meant to change our views of people with disabilities, had failed to do so.

What is wrong with people?

Just 100 days since the Games ended, a new survey carried out by Scope shows that discrimination continues.

While Paralympians themselves continue to enjoy celebrity status, two-thirds of people living with disabilities feel that the games have done nothing to improve how they are treated and spoken to. How shameful is this!

         Some 72 per cent said that the Paralympics had a positive impact on attitudes towards the disabled in general; 53 per cent said they still regularly experience discrimination: and 67 per cent said that the Paralympics have done nothing to improve the way they are spoken to


The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC has now called for more to be done about the number of hate crimes against those with disabilities.

Starmer said on ITV News: “Like everybody else I thought the Paralympics were fantastic, the sheer number of people that watched and appreciated what was going on was quite incredible.

“I hope that has enhanced our understanding of people with disabilities, my fear is that the surveys continue to show a high level of abuse. It is the surveys of ordinary people, day in day out, that are really important to this debate.”

One man with learning difficulties has said that he has repeatedly suffered abuse in the street due to his disability.

Roger Grange told ITV News that as well as name calling by both children and parents he has also been physically attacked.

The 60-year-oldsaid that he did not believe that the Paralympics has had any impact on the way people spoke to him or treated him.

Paralympian Dave Clarke, who captained the Blind Football team, said that the games are not responsible for changing attitudes, “I think it’s very naive to expect the Paralympics to solve the ills of discrimination and abuse.”

And so we could go on and on . . . and on. After hearing the report I just felt sad, knowing how hard our carers who worked with the disabled lobby on their behalf for a better deal in life.

For me and countless others, the Paralympics was a golden milestone and hugely enlightening.

I still think I believe that education can change people’s prejudices, but I’m struggling to make a good case for that philosophy at present. Surely the Paralympics with the GB teams securing 120 medals, 34 of them gold, was the greatest lesson anyone could have given to enhance the cause for society to embrace these brilliant athletes as equals. Apparently not, it seems.

More worries over the Autumn Statement

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It is true that the recent Autumn Statement is proving as big a bombshell as expected and the impact on the care sector will be felt soon I’m sure.

With less money available, who will fund the provision? And my abiding question is: Will the welfare reforms be sustainable?

Columns have already been written and pressure groups are agitated about the possible long-term effects.

Many of our care providers deal with the disabled, but some of their charges suffer conditions which are not always visible. Illnesses like bi-polar disorder are unpredictable and many people who have it cannot plan for their future precisely because of that.

On a good day, would someone who suffers such a condition be deemed fit for work?

How many employers are going to tolerate someone who suffers from a hidden disability or a mental illness? Do the Atos team – the company individuals doing the reassessments – have good clinical understanding?

I admit to disliking a lout, work-shy culture, but not all who don’t work could and it’s not their fault.

I recently picked up on a comment from a Labour councilor for Hulme in Manchester.

Amina Lone was quoted: “These cuts are punishing those who have often done nothing wrong but have had the misfortune to be born with a disability that they could not control. Maybe that is Cameron’s next policy initiative: Make sure you get your genes right otherwise you are going to be stuffed when you get out in to the big bad world.“

The planned shift from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payments (PIPs) will be worth keeping under close scrutiny.

Each share many similarities, for instance the inclusion of a daily living allowance and mobility component that are essential to ensure that individuals can maintain control over their own lives by taking responsibility through personal choice.

But organisations such as Disability Rights UK believe that the main driver is to cut allowance and reduce public expenditure.

Will this cut care too? Undoubtedly, with both recipients and providers losing out.

It’s estimated by the Government that some 300,000 disabled will have their benefits cut, though the move has been delayed for two years.

The domino effect on caring of austerity Britain already seems at a critical level, but I’m increasingly persuaded that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Benefit caps: Are we dishonouring the honourable?

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The government’s proposed benefit cap will apply to careres who look after their disabled children.

And the result will inevitably mean some will be forced to move out of their home or put their child into care, according to a piece in The Guardian.

As I understand it, ministers had said disabled people were exempt from the £500-a-week benefit cap that is due to come into force in April.

But in politics nothing is constant and now they have now accepted that if a parent is still looking after a disabled child after they reach adulthood, even if the child’s mental age is as low as eight, the parent and the child will be treated separately, and the parent will be subject to the cap.

The news broke in In the Commons when the Work and Pensions minister Esther McVey said: “In practice most carers will be exempt [from the cap] because their partner or child is in receipt of disability living allowance.”

She was then challenged by Labour MP Andrew Gwynne to look at the rules again. He said: “Close reading of the regulations indicates that a household comprising parents and a disabled adult dependent receiving disability living allowance will not be exempt from the cap, despite the minister’s promises that they would be.”

McVey then admitted: “Should there be another adult in the house, that is then a separate household, so both have to be assessed separately.”

Already letters are being sent out, so the government is acting speedily.

The newspaper cites the case of Jacqueline Smirl from London, who has been told she is to lose roughly £80 a week even though she looks after her 20-year-old son, who is in need of 24-hour care and has the mental age of an eight-year-old owing to autism.

She argues that because she looks after her son, she is saving the government money.

Ms Smirl has lived in Maida Vale since 1984. She lives in a £400-a-week private rented property and says her son is willing to move to a council property but none are available, forcing her either to leave the area or to put her son into care.

She said the threat of disruption to her already difficult life was putting intense pressure on her and she was receiving counselling.

The anomaly appears to be striking – if she were looking after a partner, spouse or “child” she would be exempt from the cap.

Surely these benefit caps were aimed at getting people back into the jobs market. But this poor woman already does a 24/7 job for a ‘wage‘ which must be a saving to government.

Another observer notes: “Cost of rent at £400PW is £20,800 PA.
Cost of Carers’ Allowance at £55PW is £2,860 PA.
Cost of DLA at the highest rates £131PW is £6,838PA.

“Total – £30,498PA. Plus a bit more for council tax, probably.

“Cost of full-time residential care £150,000 to £200,000PA.

“This mother is SAVING the taxpayer at least £120,000 every single year; like millions of other selfless individuals all over the UK.”

Benefit changes like these are never going to be popular, but I can’t help feeling it would be cheaper to let this mother do the caring which is driven by her love for her son.”

Surely these are the very people we should be honouring and supporting?

All quiet, but Ms Rippon’s campaign is still in full flight

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Okay, we know the fat man with a red suit is getting his sleigh ready for the 25th, but why have the care sector movers and shakers all gone quiet?

I have scoured the heavyweights, red-tops and internet . . . and yes, you’re right, for the first time I’m struggling to blog about anything worthwhile.

So now it’s perhaps a good time to mention my admiration of Angela Rippon’s sterling work as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Somehow, this genius of PR, she steered an interview in a national newspaper about her remarkable and famous pins to promote the work of the society.

The Daily Express carried an article yesterday which trumpeted the need to geek your legs in good order. After Rippon’s famous leggy moment with Morecambe and Wise on their 1976 Christmas Show I can think of no-one better to lead the charge for keeping active longer.

But it’s the other stuff in the interview that grips my attention: The passion she possesses for people to understand the insidious symptoms of dementia.

She made public a long time ago her journey caring for her mother Edna, a challenging dementia sufferer.

In the latest interview, she recalled the capricious changes in moods and how aggressive behavior would be forgotten in a moment.

Rippon wants to spread understanding through the Dementia Friendly Communities Initiative – a champion group formed to establish what needs to be done to make our communities more dementia friendly.

Its work is stunning and worthy of a Google search.

In the Express interview it conclude with an alarming statistic. Studies show that dementia patients spend an average of 28 extra days in hospital because they are often misunderstood, unable to feed themselves, become dehydrated and are often agitated.

Ker-ching! Average cost of hospitalisation: £250 a day.

Keep up the good work Angela Rippon!

Loneliness key to dementia onset

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Again we find the headlines dealing with the issue of dementia – with new research telling us that loneliness is key in the problem developing

It seems only a week or so ago I was blogging about  this subject which is now capturing a lot of media attention. And so it should, as one of the biggest ticking time bombs our nation will ever have to deal with, it threatens future care funding and not least poses a huge social test in how we should respond.

So I don’t really mind that I appear to have read before that an active social life is the key to warding off Alzheimer’s disease.

According to The Express – a great campaigner for dementia reform – people who are lonely are more at risk of developing the brain condition than those who have a fulfilling social life.

The new study finding come weeks after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced new measures to tackle loneliness among the elderly.

“At least five million people are reckoned to see family and friends so infrequently that they have only a television for company,” The Express says.

The three-year study found that feeling lonely – rather than being or living alone – is linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Researchers studied more than 2,000 people with no signs of dementia who had been living independently.

At the start of monitoring, just under 20 per cent said they felt lonely. Around half were living alone and half were single or no longer married. Around three out of four said they had no social support.

Among those who lived alone, around one in 10 developed dementia after three years compared with one in 20 of those who lived with others.

The research is published in the Journal Of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry and revealed that of the people who said they felt lonely, more than twice as many developed dementia after three years compared with those who did not feel lonely (13.4 per cent compared with 5.7 per cent).

“Further analysis showed that those who lived alone or who were no longer married were between 70 per cent and 80 per cent more likely to develop dementia than those who lived with others or who were married,” the Express adds.

Meanwhile, I read that elderly people who are injured in falls are being checked for early signs of dementia.

Nearly half of all hip fractures in Britain happen to those with demenetia.

A team at Southampton General Hospital is separating patients over 70 who fracture bones in a fall from other patients in the emergency department. They are then seen by specialists to try to establish if dementia could be a problem. It’s a great initiative and hopefully will pave the way to effective treatments which will hold some of the symptoms at bay.

Hope springs from the Winterbourne affair

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Owners of private hospitals dealing with NHS-funded patients are to be subject to tests to check if they are “fit and proper” persons to be involved with healthcare.

As part of reforms the tests would aim to ensure there is no “repeat of the abuse uncovered” by the BBC last year at the Winterbourne View home owned by Geneva-based investors.

The reforms are designed to get hundreds of patients with learning disabilities and autism out of assessment and treatment units.

Reported in the Guardian we find that more than 1,200 patients were in such units when there only needed to be “300 to 400”, said Norman Lamb, the health minister.

Mr Lamb said they were meant to be short-stay places but many people with learning disabilities were in them for years and shouldn’t be.

As part of the new “culture”, Lamb said corporations and the City would need to act responsibly.

And here we have evidence of that.

Proposals should be put out by spring next year, and would include both “regulatory and criminal sanctions”.

Winterbourne View hospital near Bristol was closed last year after a BBC Panorama programme uncovered a regime of systematic ill-treatment of patients.

“People with learning disabilities were being pinned down, slapped, doused in cold water and repeatedly taunted and teased. Eleven former members of staff at the home, then owned by Castlebeck, admitted criminal offences of neglect or ill-treatment,” The Guardian said.

The NHS and local authorities paid Castlebeck an average of £3,500 a week to care for each patient.

Liz Kendall, the shadow care services minister, warned that “some parts of the country continue to use long-stay institutions because they haven’t developed alternative care in the community and at home”.

I can only hope that good will emerge from this terribly sorry affair. Perhaps too, this new initiative will provide the sufficient leverage to release much-needed funding into this critically needy field of care.