Neil McNicholas: Time to address an injustice over the cost of care

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My elderly parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease some years ago. At the time they were living in their own house and were managing to look after themselves with no problems. However, as the symptoms developed it became clear that they were going to need additional help and eventually they were receiving four care visits a day – basically to prepare meals and to ensure medications were being taken. They also needed someone to clean the house and to maintain their garden.

We are a very small family – I am their only child and there are no other family members. As a priest it is difficult for me to be as available as I might like to be, and I therefore have to rely on the support provided by their carers and other helpers.

The initial care support that they were receiving was put in place by their respective doctors and the local authority and was provided by a local care agency. Over time, however, budgetary cuts meant that the authority began to reduce the services that were being provided and the amount of time allocated for care visits. At that point we elected to start paying privately for the services my parents were receiving in order to ensure that the level of care they needed – and increasingly so as the disease developed – continued.

Fortunately they were in a position to afford to pay for the level of care they needed and that cost was offset anyway by the pension payments they receive. Sadly, however, as their condition continued to deteriorate, and following a number of falls at home, the social services personnel at the hospital informed me that my parents would be at risk if they continued to live in their house and needed to be in a nursing home where they could be cared for around the clock.

While the decision itself was therefore taken out of my hands, the actual process of moving them into a care home was sadly as traumatic for my parents as these things inevitably are, but it had to be done. But also, because they have the necessary finances, they are having to pay as private residents and those costs are astronomical.

I was able to get them into one of the newer and nicer homes in the area, but unfortunately most homes don’t have double rooms. My parents are therefore paying for two rooms and the bill I received for the first seven 
weeks of care totalled around £9,000 – which, to me, seems outrageous.

Without exception, everyone you talk to – including care home staff, outside carers and social workers – says that it is totally unfair and unjust that people who have saved responsibly for their old age have to pay for their care because they can afford it. It is, indeed, a great injustice and one that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

It could be argued that if an elderly person (or in this case two elderly people, but drawing on the same savings) can afford to pay for their care then why should the state pay? The obvious answer is because those same elderly people have already contributed through their national insurance payments and should now have a right to enjoy the benefits by having their care needs paid for. Whatever private savings they may have – on which they have additional paid tax – should be theirs to do with as they like.

The current system offers no incentive whatsoever for younger generations to save for the future. Those who are working are already contributing through their national insurance and that should be that – but it isn’t.

It is very convenient for the Government that those who can afford it are forced to pay for the care they need until their savings run out – even to having to sell the family home if necessary, regardless of family needs. Meanwhile those who may have made no provision whatsoever for their care in old age have their care costs paid for them. Where is the fairness and justice in such a system?

I wish my parents weren’t in the health care situation they are in, but at the same time I am glad they have the means, for the time being at least, to pay for the care they need. However they have already paid for it and shouldn’t have to be paying yet again, and far more this time – possibly everything they have.