Poor Mark For North Home Care

Home care services in the Highlands are near the bottom of the performance league compared with the other 31 local councils across Scotland, new figures reveal. Highland Council is in the bottom 25 per cent for the number of home care clients aged over 65 receiving help in the evenings, overnight and at weekends.

On evening and overnight care the council is ranked fourth from the bottom – 29th – for 2005 to 2006, slipping from its 24th place in 2004/2005, while it was 25th out of 31 for weekend care. On the total number of hours worked in home care per 1000 people aged over 65, Highland is 24th, down from 21st the previous year.

The figures come after The Inverness Courier last week highlighted the case of blind 98-year-old George MacDonald, who was told his home help was being withdrawn after ten years because he was no longer considered vulnerable under new council criteria aimed at containing a budget overspend.

Within hours of publication the decision was reversed and the council promised to review the guidance issued to social work staff. Margaret Davidson, chairman of the local authority’s housing and social work committee, yesterday admitted the council had to improve its performance and stressed it had already shown willing by allocating an extra £1.5 million to social work.

“It is intensive home care over weekends and overnight that we really need to invest in,” she said. “This is usually associated with personal home care which allows people to stay at home when they are very frail or have just come out of hospital. We now have a very professional home care service which has built up qualifications in recent years and is now highly thought of and doing well. But we do need more with better-paid workers.”

Councillor Davidson added that the council’s controversial proposals to sell off some of its homes for the elderly, including Burnside and Ach-an-Eas in Inverness, would release more resources for home care.

Susanne Cameron-Nielsen of Help the Aged was not surprised by the new figures and said the charity was well aware of the problems facing Highland Council. “It is a difficult area, but there will be worse, and we are dealing with people who are vulnerable and need help,” she said. “Free personal care is not ring fenced at the moment and that is what will have to be done because it is part of the problem. Our main concern is that all who are in need of help should get it.”

Fergus Ewing, SNP MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, believed the council’s poor showing in the league tables highlighted its need for more money from the Scottish Executive. “While the record is unimpressive, the number of elderly people in the Highlands is growing substantially – more so, I suspect, than in the rest of Scotland,” he said.

He called on the ministers to review the funding formula for the council, taking account of the financial burden of caring for the elderly. “We need to reassess our financial priorities as a society,” Mr Ewing added.

“We cannot afford, in my opinion, to purchase brand new nuclear weaponry and also care properly for our elderly. Nor can we afford to wage wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and provide such care. These are the stark choices which George MacDonald’s case puts into sharp relief. Highland region should not be the whipping boy for the flawed priorities of Westminster.”