Son’s Journey Through Social Care Maze Son’s Journey Through Social Care Maze

As the prime minister pledges to make social care for the elderly fairer, BBC News correspondent Jon Leyne recalls his mixed experiences of NHS care after his mother fell at home.

But when my mum took delivery of hers, she took to it immediately, scampering off like a child with a new toy.

And it was a triumph in another way as well – evidence of one of the government’s better ideas on helping the elderly, of which more later.

But for every success, there are also a series of problems, as I have been finding out since my 77-year-old mother fractured her pelvis in a fall at home.

Like many of her generation she is independent, courageous, even, frankly, a little bloody-minded in tackling pain.

Perhaps the biggest problem is to get her to ask for help. My mother even went to a wedding before I could persuade her to go to hospital to check on this extremely painful injury.

Despite the fact that she is highly intelligent and alert, it has taken a lot of work to chase down what she really needs.

In fact, sometimes I have joked that it has taken all my skills as a war correspondent to battle through the bureaucracy.

‘No trouble’

In my experience, the services are often available. But the hard-pressed professionals are not always persistent enough in offering them to members of a wartime generation whose catch phrase might be “I don’t want to be any trouble…”

There are certainly plenty of good people willing to provide great care.

Take the intermediate care team – a unit of the NHS that has been set up to help older people stay out of hospital, or expensive full-time care.

As soon as we contacted them they swung into action, in an outstanding way.

They provided the zimmer frame, not to mention personal care, physiotherapy and regular visits from a nurse.

An excellent occupational therapist has helped to coordinate the care, and advised on making my mother’s home easier to navigate.

In fact all the staff are exceptionally good. It’s a system that makes human and economic sense.

Then there’s her local doctors’ surgery, who have also risen to the task.

Home visits without complaint. Phone calls returned promptly. A really pro-active approach to my mother’s care.

‘Chaotic’ management

But many other parts of the system, simply do not work together.

For example, the hospital where she was originally treated after her fall.

I should have suspected the worst when it took me nearly half an hour to find a wheelchair for my mother.

Many of the healthcare staff there are magnificent. But the management seems utterly chaotic.

  You would have better luck ringing the Pope at the Vatican
Unfortunately I could not be there to supervise my mother’s discharge from hospital. And because she was feeling ok that morning she declined an offer of physio (“I don’t want to be any trouble…”)

But they seem to have devised no follow-up plan whatsoever for this injury, so common amongst older people.

The National Osteoporosis Society says that 30% of people aged over 65 who are living at home fall every year.

When I called to chase up the offer of physio, I was told that once she had refused, that was it.

And the staff seemed totally ignorant of the scheme of intermediate care on offer, referring me, mistakenly, to Social Services.

As for contacting her medical team at the hospital once she had left – you would have better luck ringing the Pope at the Vatican.

Then there are longer term issues.

My mother has a beautiful house near one of the best schools in London.

There is nothing she would like better than to sell it to a young family, and move to a suitable flat. But it is just is not that easy.

No-one is building retirement homes suitable for her in London. Trust me, I have looked, and looked.

I have seen developments that fit the bill, perfectly. Just not in London. For example, a group called English Courtyard have some beautiful developments.

They provide a level of care able to keep most older people safe and independent.

But my mother does not want to move to Kent or Cambridgeshire. Her friends, her family and her medical support are all in London.

In this, as in so many other issues concerning the elderly, it’s often not a lack of money, it’s a lack of imagination and coordination.
And most strikingly of all it’s a desperate lack of information that is the problem.

Just try trawling through the government’s useless websites, or make a google search for “intermediate care” and you will see what I mean.

No-one is sending out a clear message.

Even the most astute elderly person would have trouble working out what is available and what they need, let alone someone befuddled and in need of urgent attention.

Until those problems are resolved, our older citizens will have to rely on persistent friends and relatives, willing to fight for them, however many times they are told “I don’t want to be any trouble….”