Older people are being put at risk because of “dangerous” cuts to home-based care which could cost the country billions of pounds, a leading charity has warned.
A survey of GPs and members of the public by the British Red Cross revealed increased levels of isolation among the elderly, more falls and accidents and growing pressures on the NHS.
Almost nine in 10 of the 200 GPs polled warned that patients were being put at risk by a lack of social care support while 80% of the 2,200 members of the public questioned said standards were being driven down.
Sir Nick Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said: “We all know budgets are tight but cuts and under-investment to lower-level home-based care which jeopardise patients’ wellbeing and dignity must be challenged.
“The practical and emotional support these services offer often makes the difference between coping or not, between independence or desperation, and between remaining healthy for as long as possible or rapidly deteriorating into crisis.
“As politicians prepare to debate the future of social care it is vital they have the courage to think beyond the short-term and rethink the way care is delivered, prioritising vital preventative care which supports people to live with dignity and confidence in their own homes.”
Sir Nick called for a “dramatic rethink” to the way social care was organised so that people could be kept healthy and independent for as long as possible, adding that home-based support could save the NHS up to £10,000 per patient.
Most GPs and members of the public said they believed support for people with lower needs was being cut.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, commented: “The government’s austerity agenda is making life a misery for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Another round of budget cuts is only making this situation worse.
“Home care has always provided a vital service and safety net, but our members tell us that this critical protection is being taken away. All too often 15-minute care slots are sold off to the lowest bidder. This does not give enough time for home carers to provide a decent level of care.
“In its white paper, due over the summer, the government must commit to a long-term solution, which is long overdue.
“Funding social care through general taxation, making it free at the point of use along the lines of the NHS model would solve this problem, and give elderly people the dignity and respect they deserve.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Focusing on prevention and keeping people healthy and well for longer are some of the concerns we talked to people about as part of our engagement for the Care and Support White Paper, which will be coming out soon.
“We agree that it is false economy to provide fewer services to the most vulnerable.
“The changes to the NHS and social care system aim to focus care on individuals’ needs, and some councils are already taking a more innovative approach through telehealth and telecare.
“In the Spending Review, the government recognised the pressures on the adult social care system, and took the decision to prioritise adult social care by allocating an additional £7.2 billion up to 2014/15.”