There was a time last year when I felt even greater despair than usual about how we treat elderly people in this country – and their carers.
Both my parents were in full-time care in a nursing home. I was preparing for an independent hearing where I would put my case for NHS Continuing Healthcare funding (free NHS care) for my mother – the culmination of a long, long battle with the NHS.
I was also looking into my father’s case, realising that the health assessment he should have had had not been carried out. It was an ‘oversight’ and a ‘lack of resource’, said the NHS. Someone like my father does not have time left for oversights.
My parents had run out of cash to pay for ongoing care fees and I was trying to sell their house – our family home – to raise funds, but a survey revealed that subsidence rendered it unsaleable. It took over a year to get the insurance company to even agree to cover the repairs, let alone start any work on it.
I applied to the local authority for emergency assistance to cover care fees. I received what seemed like reams of forms from Social Services, and it took me hours and hours to pull together all the evidence of our lack of funds to pay for care.
Then, shortly after that I started receiving bills from Social Services (erroneously) for tens of thousands of pounds. I was told to ‘ignore them’, and yet they weren’t cancelled. It was hugely distressing.
The nursing home was chasing me for money, seemingly unable to accept that the state had a duty to step in here.
I was monitoring and managing dates for dental and neurology appointments for my parents, because no one else did.
I was trying understand why my mother had been discharged completely byher neurology consultant. No one had told her, me or the care home. She is, apparently, ‘too ill’ to warrant an appointment. (And yet she was ‘not ill enough’ for the NHS to provide nursing care.)
Because my mother lacks mental capacity to make decisions, I was applying to the Court of Protection to ask for permission to use some of my mother’s remaining assets to pay for legal help.
(Even with a Power of Attorney, you still have to do this, it seems.)
As part of this I needed a GP to confirm that my mother is indeed mentally incapable, but I could find no one in the NHS who knew her well enough to fill in the relevant forms. It was an even sharper realisation that she had been totally abandoned by the NHS. It seemed I was the only person able to be her advocate.
She had no advocate – at all – in the health service.
Every visit I made to assessments and meetings involved a three-hour drive each way. Plus, I was visiting my parents in the care home every other weekend and raising regular concerns with the care home about aspects of their care.
It was exhausting. I was working all hours to pay my own bills and stay afloat.
Then, to top all that, a major UK bank consistently obstructed me from using my Power of Attorney to cash in a final investment on my parents’ behalf. Their actions were for no other reason than their own incompetence and complete ignorance about how Powers of Attorney work. I had to get a solicitor friend to intervene.
I remember one night just sitting at my desk with my head in my hands in tears. I felt so alone and so powerless.
There is no safety net in this country if you’re old and have some savings – and no safety net for relatives. There is no help.
The task of fighting to get back the huge amount of money for care fees that has been taken from my parents illegally, finding out how things work (or, more likely, don’t work), navigating the ‘system’, and making sure that what should be happening is happening has all been left at my door.
When you don’t know what you don’t know and are fighting in the dark much of the time, it’s an unending nightmare.
And without someone to fight for them, elderly people don’t fare very well at all.