It’s a simple, four letter word. It should be the most positive four-letter word there is. So why is care such a vexatious issue in this country? Are we really as uncaring as it sometimes seems?
We are waiting for the government to publish a Green Paper on social care for older people. Remember, a Green Paper is a preliminary indication of government policy, designed to provoke discussion. In other words, the publication of a Green Paper doesn’t guarantee change. It’s the start of a process of discussion and debate which might lead to something valuable at some point. In other words, don’t hold your breath. The proposals in the Green Paper will be published – like a Northern train, “the summer of 2018” is the vague arrival time – as a robust debate continues about how much money we need to fund health care.
Of course, care, social and health, costs money and of course, someone has to pay the bill. When Mum died in May 2017, I reckon she and we, as a family, had funded her care, via various means, to the tune of around £200,000. We were lucky to be in a position to do that, to make sure that Mum received the best care we could find. But she needed care because she was ill. Alzheimer’s Disease is just that, it’s a disease, a medical condition. In the early days of her dementia, Mum had an unrelated condition which caused her to fit. I took her to hospital on one occasion and she was admitted. Had we not been able to look after her, she might have stayed there for much longer than one night. And if she had done so, her care would have been funded by the NHS. So what is so different when a family makes sacrifices to care for a loved one? Why should that family have to pay potentially ruinous costs?
So many people with dementia are cared for at home. In 2014, Alzheimer’s Society reported that two-thirds of the cost of dementia care – put at a conservative £17.4 billion – is paid by people living with dementia and their families, either in unpaid care or in private social care. It was estimated that family members or close friends provide unpaid care which would cost more £11.6 billion pounds. That is a staggering amount of money, a proportion of which could, should, be funded centrally.
Anticipating the Green Paper, the Secretary of State for Health and (now) Social Care, the Rt.Hon. Jeremy Hunt says:
“We are committed to reforming social care to ensure we can guarantee everyone dignity and security in old age.”
We all have to pay, in some way, for that dignity and security. I’m not naive – I understand that good care comes at a cost. But please, let’s not make the discussion – whether prompted by the Green Paper or not – be restricted to money. If as a country, we can’t talk about care in terms of its quality, in terms of the way it permits a person, regardless of their health, to live as fulfilling a life as possible, then we are doing something fundamentally wrong.
If we don’t aspire to the best care for everyone, then we really don’t care at all.