Fulfilled living in later life
The small works holding back the floods of despair

Monday 10th June 2024

The small works holding back the floods of despair

Louise Morse

Welsh charity Care & Repair Cymru (CRC) has won a major national award for its work; particularly helping timely discharges of older people from hospital, and avoiding readmission because of poor quality housing. The Dutch boy saved his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike and staying there all night until the villagers found him and repaired the dike. The story is a metaphor, symbolizing the Netherlands’ constant struggle with water and its dedicated efforts to safeguard its land and people. And CRC is a small but powerful finger in a tottering social care system, one of thousands in the UK that are stopping a flood of misery and early deaths in the UK.

With the upcoming election of a new Government there’s a call for ordinary people - you and me, to question the political parties about their plans for social care. Because the ‘villagers’ - those people in government and in positions of influence - need to bring their power to the dike.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the problem of how to provide social care it to an ageing population has reached a critical level. The signs are that it is failing - last year almost 30,000 elderly people died before receiving care. That’s an average of 79 deaths a day, 550 a week, and 2,388 a month.

It affects NHS capacity: despite safer housing (thanks to CRC) more and more people are being kept in hospital when they could be discharged because they can’t get the care they need in their homes. On January 9, 2022, of the 17,303 patients in English NHS hospitals ready to leave, only 4,907 were discharged. It means beds are not available for patients and the Royal College of Nursing issued a warning, ‘Our once world-leading services are treating patients in car parks and store cupboards. The elderly are languishing on chairs for hours on end and patients are dying in corridors. The horror of this situation cannot be understated. It is a national emergency for patient safety and today we are raising the alarm.’

Martin Green, Chief executive of Care England, is frustrated that government still has to be convinced that social care is an important part of our society and must be seen as part of national infrastructure. 'Political parties always want to dodge this issue because they see it as too difficult to manage,’ he said,

‘The challenge of today is how to support people with long-term conditions. The fact that these people are alive is a manifestation of the success of the NHS, but we need to understand that as people live with long-term conditions, their support needs are based on their communities, and they are not about hospitals or getting cured. Social care is essential because it’s about how people live their best lives despite the challenges of sometimes many health conditions. Every day, social care transforms lives. It supports people and is a significant contributor to the economy.’

But even if the Government announced it was to fully fund a sustainable plan, there would still be challenges. We need to change public perception of social care, which is often coloured by ageism. (Funding itself would result in raised taxes, and this will spur ageist reactions.) There needs to be recognition of the skills and value of carers, aligning them with nurses, as we saw in the Covid pandemic. Recruitment is a huge problem, with 150,000 vacancies to be filled.

Empowering communities

At the New Wine event one year I met the Rev Peter Southcombe, probably the most entrepreneurial vicar in the world, and one totally dedicated to the wellbeing of older people. He had identified channels for funding and under his tutelage his church became the best resourced in the region for older people, including those with dementia. (He is with the Lord now.) He said that if all our active churches were given the finance they needed, they would revolutionise social care. At Pilgrims' Friend Society, we've been working on a document laying out four policy theme which would empower communities to care using its ‘micro-assets’ - charities like Care & Repair Cymru, and other local organisations, including its churches.

Buckling at the knees

The headline was self-explanatory: ‘Why Our Knees Are Buckling Under the Strain of NHS Waiting Lists.’ The mention of ‘knees’ reminded me of the power of prayer. What would happen if we all got on our knees and prayed about it? We’ve just celebrated the 80th anniversary of D Day, which is a reminder of prayers that were answered during Second World War, particularly during that huge assault and the evacuation of the thousands of soldiers from the Dunkirk, between 26 May and 4 June 1940. Even Churchill — not exactly a regular churchgoer — called Dunkirk a “miracle of deliverance".

The Scriptures tell us to care for one another, and that older people are precious to Him (Leviticus 31:19). He says that whatever we do for the least of His brethren, we are doing it for Him, (Matthew 25:40). So let’s make waves - let’s ask politicians who come canvassing what they intend to do about social care. Let’s write to our local press, or email journalists to encourage them to write articles about it. Let’s ask our pastors to lead public prayer about it. And pray, and pray.