‘Good neighbours’ are not the answer to our care problems

Professional care is expensive.

Professional care is expensive. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

So Suffolk County Council’s cabinet has decided to have a review of the way home care is delivered in the county . . . and is talking about community services, improving services etc etc.

I would love to think that the county council could find the Holy Grail that will allow more and more people to be cared for in a better way in the community while spending less money.

Sadly, in the real world these aspirations are wholly unrealistic. The changing demographics of the 21st Century mean many of the “community solutions” are not viable.

There seems to be an idea that being a “good neighbour” in communities across Suffolk will ease the burden of home care. That is just not the case. There is the world of difference in Mrs Smith’s neighbour knocking on the door and seeing if she wants anything from the village shop and the kind of professional care that is increasingly being needed.

You can’t expect “good neighbours” to get people up in the mornings, cook their meals, help them go to the toilet and put them to bed at night.

That requires professional care – and that costs a lot of money.

To suggest there may be alternatives to tight timetables is also pretty unrealistic. As more people need care and there is less money to pay for carers, it is inevitable that those carers that are left will have longer lists of people to visit and less time for each.

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And make no mistake, demand is going to really take off over the next few years and decades. People are living longer – and living longer with debilitating chronic conditions like dementia, arthritis, and many other conditions that need care.

Hospitals are increasingly reluctant to provide accommodation for “bed blockers” and residential care in high-quality homes is going to get much more expensive.

Families are becoming much more fractured – is it realistic to expect a 50-year-old who may have moved away from the area decades ago to return to live with their 85-year-old mum when she develops Alzheimer’s?

Amid this gloomy scenario, I just can’t see how community assistance can make much of a difference. It can ease loneliness and it can provide an early warning if someone has a fall or is suddenly taken ill – but it is no substitute for those who need care.

Those of us who are middle-aged today might not like to think about the kind of care we will need in 30 or 40 years’ time, but I fear that it will be much less than we see today.

Of course many, probably the majority, will remain relatively healthy until shortly before we die and will not need care. But for those who do, I fear the future for publicly-funded care will look increasingly bleak.

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