Tom Richmond: Bed bound with a broken hip and cancer but still deemed well enough to go home – my experience of elderly social care in the UK

THERE are now 71,398 new reasons why the Government’s inaction over social care is as scandalous, and damaging, as its mishandling of Brexit. This is the number of frail NHS patients – invariably elderly – who required emergency readmission to hospital last year within 24 hours of their release.

Social care is a bigger crisis than Brexit, says Tom Richmond. Do you agree?
Social care is a bigger crisis than Brexit, says Tom Richmond. Do you agree?

A figure which equates to the average number of voters in each Parliamentary constituency, this represents a 30 per cent increase over five years and the knock-on effect is longer delays for routine surgery – or A&E treatment.

And the disturbing data from Healthwatch, a watchdog chaired by Sir Robert Francis who headed the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, also excludes the 484,609 patients rushed back to hospital last year within a month of their original discharge.

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Tom Richmond suggests any leadership aspirant should come up with a plan for social care as a pre-condition of their prospectus for power.

This does not surprise me. Two weeks ago, a ‘ward manager type’ at a leading hospital – previously lauded by Theresa May for its excellence – suggested to an elderly relative of mine that they were well enough to be allowed home, even though they were still bed-bound from hip surgery and cancer treatment.

This was without any assessment of their care needs at home. A fortnight later and it has now required the medical intervention of a consultant to ensure my relative’s physical health – and recovery – is not put at undue risk by such haste.

My relation and others concerned are most definitely not ‘bed-blockers’ – the disparaging term applied to such cases – and the care and compassion of most hospital staff is humbling. It is not their fault that their wards are so short-staffed, even more so at weekends when they can struggle to find time to wash patients, or that social care provision is even more unpredictable than Brexit.

But I think it is reprehensible that Labour’s near-silence has been totally eclipsed by the Government’s scandalous non-silence and the indifference shown by all those single issue Brexit ideologues plotting to succeed Mrs May.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not recall the likes of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab, or their hard line Brexiteer allies like Sir Bill Cash and Mark Francois, even talking about social care since that misleading advert on the side of a bus in the 2016 EU referendum about NHS funding.

Even Matt Hancock, the underwhelming Health and Social Care Secretary, and another leadership aspirant with a very inflated opinion of his capabilities, has next to little to say – despite this issue being part of his brief.

Though he announced an extra £240m in his speech to the Tory party conference last October, in addition to the surcharges now levied routinely on local authority council tax bills, Mr Hancock limited his comments to just this: “We need to make sure that money’s well spent, by reforming the NHS and social care system too…”

The excuse was that a Green Paper on future funding – and provision – of social care was imminent. Yet, six months later, this announcement is still pending and almost as overdue as failing Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s resignation.

A Department of Health spokesperson says it is a matter for Mr Hancock’s office while the latter, when I called out of personal curiosity and professional cussedness, referred me to 10 Downing Street who, in turn, suggested it was a DoH matter. In short, no one had a clue.

All this while the elderly, people who deserve better in their hour of need, pay the price for the prevailing political inaction and inertia as Mr Hancock prepares to further his leadership bid by delivering a speech to the TaxPayers’ Alliance on the potential for “embracing technology in health and social care” – he is so obsessed with digital gadgets that he believes they are the answer to everything.

It should not be like this. As far as I’m concerned, any candidacy for the Tory – or Labour – leadership is invalidated without a clear, coherent and costed social care plan as a pre-condition of the individual’s policy prospectus for power.

This should include expanding recovery care in community hospitals; extra support for home adaptions so the frail do not put their safety at undue risk and sufficient residential facilities for those with long-term care needs.

All consequences of an ageing society, they are all issues that preceded the start of the Brexit debate and will exist long after Britain’s future relationship with the European Union has been reconciled.

But this can’t happen until the Brexit wing of the now dysfunctional Tory party, and others, recognise that this country cannot shut its doors to outsiders if the NHS is to have sufficient staff from the EU – and elsewhere – to function.

If they cared to visit a hospital, they would also see the angst of highly-skilled doctors, nurses and support staff from around the world who do not know, as the political debate becomes more toxic, if they’re still welcome in a country that they would like to call home. It’s embarrassing to witness this.

It is another reason – to add to the 71,398 cases previously cited – why I believe the failure to act on social care is now the more damaging to Britain’s future than Brexit. And that’s saying something.