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Crisis highlights urgent need for investment in social care

Published on 28 April 2020 06:34 PM

Age Scotland is calling for more investment in social care staff and resources, as well as support for unpaid carers, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The charity says that the pandemic has highlighted the extremely fragile state of the health and social care system. New figures obtained by the  BBC show that thousands of older people and those with disabilities in Scotland have lost their home care in the last few months.

The BBC Disclosure investigation, shown on Monday 27th April, found that Glasgow had seen a reduction of 1884 home care visits – more than a third - between January and April, while Inverclyde saw them fall by 4589 (27 per cent). West Dunbartonshire has reduced numbers by 284, almost 20 per cent.

Other big drops were seen in Moray (404 fewer visits or 14 per cent), North Lanarkshire (437 fewer visits or 13 per cent) and Edinburgh (240 fewer visits, or 5 per cent).

Health and Social Care Partnerships (HCSPs) across Scotland, which manage the services, report major staff shortages due to coronavirus, with many only able to cater for those with the most critical needs.

Age Scotland’s own research in 2019 found that many HCSPs were already struggling to meet demand before the health emergency, with 43 per cent of people with substantial or critical care needs waiting longer than the recommended six weeks for a care package.

Unpaid family members, who may have health needs themselves, often take on the strain, while other older people are stranded in hospital as they wait for the care they need in their community.

Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said: “These figures back up what we have been hearing from older people who have been calling our helpline, and serve to highlight the extremely fragile state of our social care system. This current health emergency threatens to tip it over the edge.

“Even before this pandemic, our research found that thousands of older people in Scotland with critical or substantial needs were already waiting too long for the social care they desperately needed.

“Not surprisingly, staff absences due to illness and self-isolation have increased the strain on this service, leaving thousands more people across Scotland struggling to cope. Our helpline hears from older people and their families every day who urgently need help with everyday activities, such as getting washed, dressed, eating and taking their medication.

“Care workers are truly unsung heroes on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, putting their own health and even their lives at risk, often for low pay and little recognition. We must ensure they have all the support and equipment they need to do this vital work. At the same time, we must not forget the massive impact of unpaid carers across Scotland, who work selflessly each day without financial support or personal protective equipment.

“As we come through this crisis, we urgently need to reassess our social care system and invest in recruiting, training and retaining staff. It is an essential part of our healthcare system and should never be treated as second-tier.

"As demand for social care is only going to grow as our population ages, we must do more to make social care an attractive career option, and make sure care workers have the support, pay, and recognition they deserve.”

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