Health risks from poor support for older people

Author: Adrian O'Dowd
Health risks from poor support for older people
Older people are not receiving enough help to live independently, leading to increased healthcare demands on GPs and other health services, according to a report published today.

The charity Human Rights Watch has published its Unmet Needs: Improper Social Care Assessments for Older People in England report which looks at the impact on older peoples’ health and dignity from such assessments.

For the report, the charity spoke to older people and their relatives in 12 cities and towns across England.

The authors interviewed 104 people, including 27 people between the ages of 58 and 94, and 20 family caregivers between September 2017 and November 2018.

They also interviewed 51 representatives of charities, NHS staff, Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) staff responsible for planning local health care, lawyers, service providers, academics, policy experts, and current and former local government staff.

The number of people in England age 65 and over is projected to increase by more than 20% between 2014 and 2024.

Under the Care Act of 2014, anyone who meets financial and needs criteria is entitled to social care and services can include in-home assistance such as help preparing meals, dressing, and bathing.

Day-to-day responsibility for providing social care services in England rests primarily with local authorities and although social care assessments often have significant impact on older people’s health, wellbeing, and independence, no central government agency monitors the assessments.

Some of the people interviewed said assessors appeared not to understand their disabilities and support needs while in other cases, before beginning an assessment, assessors announced that services would be cut regardless of an individual’s actual need.

In some cases, services were denied or cut significantly, affecting older people’s health and wellbeing.

The authors said older people in England were at risk of not getting adequate assistance to live independent, dignified lives due to uneven assessments for social services and the system meant that the UK government risked failing to secure older persons’ rights to health and to live in the community.

Interviews with NHS staff and CCG representatives confirmed the impact that assessments had on healthcare needs.

The UK government had obligations under domestic and international law to ensure the rights of older people to live independently in the community, to health, and to private and family life, said Human Rights Watch.

Bethany Brown, researcher on older people’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said: “Older people do not always get fair assessments of the support they need to live dignified, independent lives. Older people’s health and wellbeing can be harmed if they do not get the services they are entitled to.

“Many older people in England desperately need these services and have no alternatives, so serious cuts to social services funding and an improper assessment can cause tangible risks to their health and wellbeing.

“Oversight is a crucial part of a properly functioning system, and the UK government should make sure that local authorities consistently conduct fair and accurate assessments and deliver appropriate services.”