Hundreds of Scots died while waiting for social care packages last year as new figures reveal “a cruel crisis of care” linked to cuts to council budgets.
More than 270 people died while waiting for their social care packages to start in 2015, and some vulnerable patients waited more than a year for much-needed carers to help them accomplish basic tasks.
In just one week there were 12,000 hours of social care going unmet, according to freedom of information figures obtained by motor neurone disease (MND) campaigner Gordon Aikman.
The highest number of deaths while on the waiting list were in Edinburgh, where 95 people passed away before their social care package arrived.
It comes after the public spending watchdog warned that many health boards were not prepared for the imminent integration of health and social care, which aims to shift care away from hospitals to a community setting.
Calls have been made for ministers to bring in a living wage for carers and to invest more to meet rising demand.
Mr Aikman, who is supported by carers three times a day, said: “With hundreds of Scots dying for care, this study lays bare a cruel crisis in care caused by cuts to our councils.
“Behind these figures are real people with stories of desperation, misery and indignity. Imagine it was your mum or your son waiting months for the help they need to live their life.
“Given our parliament now has revenue-raising powers, it need not be this way.”
Lack of social care places a strain on stretched hospitals as patients can end up “bed blocking”.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “These are shocking figures and they demand immediate action from the SNP government. It is just not right that people who are dying can’t do so with dignity or proper support because the care packages aren’t available.
“Council resources are under pressure like never before, and things are only going to get worse after John Swinney’s budget cut funding even more.”
Her calls were echoed by union leaders, who said staff were feeling undervalued and overwhelmed by the situation.
Dave Watson, head of policy at Unison Scotland, said: “These shocking figures highlight the crisis facing social care services in Scotland and that includes an undervalued and overwhelmed workforce.
“If we want a social care system that can meet the needs of our population and treat people in a dignified way, then we need to invest in it.”
Recruiting the right numbers of staff can be “almost impossible” with the current funding, said Ranald Mair, chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents providers of care-at-home services. He said: “Scottish Care and the homecare providers we represent believe there needs to be a review of the funding of these services if they are to be secured into the future.”
Last night health secretary Shona Robison defended the government’s record on integrated health and social care, and insisted local government had avoided the worst of the UK cuts.
She said: “We are committed to supporting councils, NHS boards and integrated health and social care partnerships to ensure that their social care packages are arranged effectively.”