It is a question that acquires even greater urgency following the publication of a leaked report which reveals that the efficiency savings planned by the Department of Health "may not be achievable", leading to higher hospital waiting times, unless the NHS receives a fresh injection of cash.
What Ministers fail to realise, because of their obstinacy, is that hospitals will come under even greater pressure if the care policies for the elderly are inadequate. If an individual is too frail to be looked after by their family, or a nursing home place is unavailable, then hospital is their only option – irrespective of the cost implications.
Rather than allowing individual town halls to set their own priorities, depending on whether they have the financial scope to maintain care services, the Government needs to be taking the lead in determining how an ageing population should be cared in the future – and how this should be funded.
There is no shortage of expertise. The default position of any Minister, past or present, is to commission a report rather than taking a political lead and putting a pragmatic policy in place. Elderly care should not be considered in isolation; it needs to be discussed as part of a wider review that also encompasses the staffing crisis which has left many senior citizens at the mercy of unqualified staff.
Given that these are society's most vulnerable people because they are totally dependent upon the care of others, it defies belief – in this era of targets – that recruitment procedures are not properly regulated.
It is also worrying, given the importance attached to continuity of care as patients build up a bond of trust with care workers, that there is such a high staff turnover rate at residential homes.
The reason behind this, presumably pay, needs addressing as part of a wider shake-up so the elderly and vulnerable can be assured that they will be looked after with dignity, and compassion, during the twilight of their lives. Such a guarantee cannot be provided at present.