There is no doubt that last night’s BBC panorama programme made very difficult viewing for all those watching. Focusing on four families in Somerset over a 10 month period, the programme highlighted the impossible decisions having to be made by Somerset County Council when attempting to balance the needs of vulnerable people with the cost of providing care in the light of relentless budget cuts.
Somerset was chosen by the programme due to the vastly growing demand upon its adult social care services. However, the difficulties faced by the Council are not unique to that area. £15 billion is spent every year by local authorities in England to provide people with day to day support. With government funding to councils being cut by two thirds since 2010 and the expectation of councils to make savings of millions of pounds (£13 million expected of Somerset County Council alone) over the course of a financial year, it is not difficult to see how the need to make extremely difficult decisions arise.
That is, of course, of little consolation to the families who are currently struggling under the unrelenting strain placed upon them in caring for their relatives. The programme featured Martine Evans, a 37 year old mother of three, who suffered with juvenile idiopathic arthritis which caused her extreme pain. Her husband, David, had become her main carer, alongside having to care for their three young children and working as a self-employed mobile mechanic. Martine recalled how, when her social worker changed jobs, she was not allocated a new one and she therefore “slipped through the system.” It was clear that the family were in desperate need for more help and it was pleasing to see that by the end of the programme she had been provided with much needed overnight care and equipment which made caring for her easier. However, this additional help was not provided by the Council for some time with the NHS, rather than the Council, eventually agreeing to fund her care.
The programme also featured Michael Pike, a 72 year old gentleman, who suffered with encephalitis and had a diagnosis of dementia. His partner, Barbara Harvey, had become his main carer with help being provided by outside carers. It had been calculated that Michael required 124 hours of care per week but had been provided with just 44 hours per week by the Council. The effect that this had had on Barbara’s health was recognised by their social worker who recalled how she had refused to go to hospital when recommended to by her Doctor, due to the potential impact that this would have on Michael’s care. It was heartening to see that their social worker had pursued their case for full NHS funding of Michael’s care on their behalf and that NHS continuing healthcare funding was confirmed as being secured by the end of the programme.
However, it is our experience that in the vast majority of cases the fight for NHS continuing healthcare funding of an individual’s care is not one that is taken up by social workers. Rather, it is the individuals themselves and their families who are required to request an assessment of continuing healthcare eligibility and to subsequently challenge the same should the outcome of that assessment be negative. NHS continuing healthcare funding eligibility is premised upon an individual possessing a primary health need as opposed to social need and the reality is that individuals and their families have to apply and fight for this funding at an already incredibly difficult and challenging time.
Successive governments have failed to reform the care system and the current government has promised that it will publish its future plan for social care at the earliest opportunity. Just when this will be remains to be seen. It will, therefore, unfortunately be the case that many families will find themselves in the same positions as highlighted in last night’s programme for some time. I would like to thank the BBC, however, for shining a light on the current crisis faced by the country’s care system and await the second part to their programme next week which will specifically focus upon the potential funding sources for care.