Hundreds die waiting for social care packages

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland Health Correspondent

Image source, Thinkstock

More than 270 Scots died last year waiting for a social care package, figures compiled by a motor neurone disease patient and campaigner show.

The former Labour party adviser Gordon Aikman sent Freedom of Information requests to Scotland's 32 councils.

Twenty six replied, revealing that at least 276 people died last year while waiting for their care to be arranged.

The Scottish government said it would "continue to work hard with councils to improve provision".

Scottish Labour described the findings as "shocking".

The figures revealed that at the start of November, at least seven people had been waiting more than six months and one had been waiting nearly two years for a care package.

Councils that did not provide figures included East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Highland, North Lanarkshire, and Renfrewshire.

'Misery and indignity'

Services for Glasgow are contracted out to a private company, which means it is not bound by Freedom of Information legislation.

Mr Aikman claimed the "cruel crisis" in social care provision was the result of cuts to council budgets.

"Behind these figures are real people with stories of desperation, misery and indignity," said Mr Aikman, who himself relies on visits from carers three times a day.

"Imagine it was your mum or your son waiting months for the help they need to live their life."

The majority are likely to be elderly people who die in hospital waiting for their care packages to be arranged.

Delayed discharge or "bed blocking" figures released by NHS Scotland suggest 70% of people who are waiting for social care are over 75.

Image caption,
Gordon Aikman suffers from motor neurone disease, for which there is no cure or effective treatment

Research has suggested two-thirds of people would prefer to die at home, but only about one-third of individuals actually do.

By the end of last year there were fewer people waiting in hospital for a care package than there were during 2014, but it still amounted to 1,294 people in November 2015.

Ranald Mair, chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents providers of care at home services, said there needed to be more investment in social care.

"We know there are already parts of Scotland where it is proving difficult if not almost impossible to recruit or retain homecare staff at the levels that current funding allows. This leads to people being stuck in hospital unnecessarily, as well as unacceptable restrictions on choice and flexibility of services.

"What's more, if this under-resourcing of homecare services continues, we will be facing a real crisis whereby the quality and the sustainability of homecare services are severely compromised."

Mr Aikman's figures suggest 12,000 hours of social care approved by local authorities went unmet in just one week during November.

'Properly invest'

He said: "Given our parliament now has revenue-raising powers, it need not be this way. A caring, compassionate Scottish government would end the cuts, properly invest in social care and pay care workers the Living Wage they deserve."

Health Secretary Shona Robison said she deeply regretted anyone having to wait longer than necessary to receive their care package.

She said: "In the biggest single reform since the health service was established, the Scottish government is joining up health and social care for the first time to ensure that our health boards work seamlessly with local authorities to deliver the best possible care.

"That is why next year's budget contains an additional quarter of a billion pounds' investment in social care to be delivered through integration boards, to protect and grow social care services and to deliver our shared priorities in respect of reform.

"This is additional to the £500m I have already committed to support implementation of health and social care integration."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: "It is just not right that people who are dying can't do so with dignity or proper support because the care packages aren't available.

"Council resources are under pressure like never before, and things are only going to get worse after John Swinney's budget cut funding even more."

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