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'Failing' care leaving old at risk

The Government and the Labour Party are being urged to overhaul England's "failing" social care system, which experts say is leaving 800,000 elderly people "lonely, isolated and at risk".

In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph, a group of more than 60 government advisers, charity directors and independent experts said failure to meet the challenge of an ageing population is resulting in "terrible examples of abuse and neglect".

The signatories, who include representatives from the British Medical Association, Age UK and the TUC, called for cross-party support to secure "urgent, fundamental and lasting reform". "The unavoidable challenge we face is how to support the increasing number of people who need care," they wrote. "It is currently a challenge which we are failing to meet - resulting in terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system.

"This comes at a huge cost to the dignity and independence of older and disabled people, but also to our society, family life and the economy. An estimated 800,000 older people are being left without basic care - lonely, isolated and at risk."

They said some people face losing their homes and savings because of rising social care bills, while businesses are losing staff who are forced to give up work to care for relatives. NHS hospitals are "paying the price" because of avoidable hospital admissions, they added.

Care services minister Paul Burstow told the Telegraph the Government is "taking leadership on this issue". He said the coalition agreed the reform of social care was an "urgent priority", adding: "We have put an extra £7.2 billion for social care over the course of this parliament."

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham admitted people were "desperate for reform". He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that politicians needed "to face up to this challenge", adding: "I'm ready to play a constructive part in these talks."

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "We are planning to publish a White Paper in the spring, setting out our plans. We recognise that there is a need in this country to reform social care, and ensuring the dignity and the independence of older people and disabled people in this country are a priority for the Government."

He declined to specify whether the Prime Minister would personally engage in cross-party talks, following an invitation by Labour leader Ed Miliband. Ministers had already met Opposition counterparts to discuss the issue, he said. "These are long-term issues facing the country and it's right that there is a broad debate about how we deal with that. No doubt there will be more discussion in the coming months."

Asked about reports that the funding implications of reforms would omitted from the White Paper and dealt with in a separate "progress report", he said: "You will have to wait for the White Paper."


From Belfast Telegraph