Leader comment: A human face on a crisis in care

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It can be easy to get bogged down in statistics when talking about the problems in our NHS.

Numbers fly around everywhere as the regular statistical bulletins give us things like the percentage of people seen within four hours at A&E, how far overbudget certain services are, and whether government targets are being hit.

The whole thing can feel quite, well, clinical.

Talking about “thousands of patients” provides a useful emotional detachment as the political debate all too often descends into its familiar mud-slinging.

Which is why SNP MSP Christine Grahame’s decision to raise the case of one of her constituents at First Minister’s Questions yesterday was so powerful. Not just because of where it came from – Nicola Sturgeon’s own backbenches – but because it put a human face on the dreadful situation so many older people find themselves in.

Ms Grahame said her constituent had been admitted to the Borders General Hospital in February, not assessed until June and was still awaiting a care package.

That’s eight months of an elderly person’s life spent needlessly waiting on a hospital ward. Eight months where a valuable NHS resource has been occupied for no clinical reason.

The distress of the gentleman involved and his family as they wait for the system to kick-in can only be imagined, though far too many people in a similar position will not need any help in appreciating the situation.

Ms Sturgeon insists the integration of health and social care is working well, lessons have been learned and issues are being addressed by the health boards involved.

Coming on the back of a Care Inspectorate report which exposed a string of failings in care for the elderly across Edinburgh, and charities warning that the shortage of social care workers in the Highlands resulted in some being left without food, water and essential medicines, it can only be hoped that these issues are resolved as soon as possible.

As Ms Grahame told the First Minister yesterday: “Admirable though the integration of health and social care, it is actually not working in practice.”

In the face of mounting evidence, both human and statistical, that assertion certainly seems difficult to argue with.