Carers and patients deserve better

Green council candidate, Claire Miller, says that a lot more can be done to improve the experience of care, for both service users and carers.

Most of us will need social care at some point, either for ourselves or our relatives.  I’ve recently had personal experience of the social care system, and understood first-hand how shortages in the number of carers impact on people who really need support.

A close relative has a terminal illness and has decided to live at home with the support of palliative care and personal care. This is now a very common decision for older people who want the comfort and security of being in their own home, but who need additional support from a range of medical and social carers to be able to retain this independence while in poor health.  Without that support, they would not be able to carry on living at home.  However, there are not enough social carers to meet the needs of all the people who require care at home.

In our case, my relative needs help to wash and dress in the morning, prepare meals, and get ready for bed at night. Without care, she would not be able to stay clean or feed herself regularly. As her health declines, she will need more and more help from carers.

During November, she was an in-patient at her local general hospital in the Borders. After a couple of weeks she was ready to be discharged and go home; she wanted to go home, but was unable to go until the care package was available. We waited – blocking the bed – for a fortnight before eventually she self-discharged even though the care was still not in place. It was a dangerous decision to go home without care, as she was unable to look after herself and is also prone to falls. However, there were no carers available until another client no longer needed their care package, thus freeing up the resource.

But because there was no social care immediately available, she had to stay in hospital, at much greater cost, and preventing someone else using that hospital bed.  No-one benefits from that situation.

We spent a stressful few weeks muddling along as best we could, with me helping when I could in between working. We learned all sorts of things like how to use a bath lift and how I could help her to have a dignified bath experience. This has made me realise just how much this job requires someone with compassion, common sense, confidence and autonomy – not an easy job at all.

It’s a conundrum – care jobs can be quite poorly paid and yet they require specific skills and competencies. They have stresses and strains such as a packed schedule, lots of traveling between clients, and a great deal of responsibility for liaising with the client and their relatives. Local authorities cannot attract and retain enough carers to provide care to all the clients who need the services. It’s a dual issue of having enough budget to pay for the number of employees and also attracting more people into the profession – which at the moment is a hugely under-appreciated career.

My personal experience with my relative is in the Scottish Borders local authority, rather than Edinburgh, but I am aware that the shortage of caring staff is a problem across Scotland.

If I am elected in May, I will fight for improvements to the care system. We must work harder to provide a respected and well paid career for carers, a career which is appealing and rewarding enough to attract the numbers of carers we need for our ageing population. I am delighted that my Green councillor colleagues proposed a “Living Wage Plus” for care workers last year to recruit and retain more care staff. This would attract more carers and reduce the high turnover of staff.

Edinburgh has a designated post of “Carers Champion”. It is important that this position continues but, as new arrangements between the council and NHS Lothian bed down, I believe the postholder needs to be more assertive, more bullish, in ensuring that caring is given top priority.

And I will continue to call out the effects of repeated budget cuts and fight for increases to public spending to pay for these essential public services.