Leaders: Showing that we care is a key matter for debate

THE question of providing for those most in need must be aired, with political motives put aside despite imminent election

Gordon Aikman found that 300 people died while awaiting care thank to an FOI request. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Gordon Aikman found that 300 people died while awaiting care thank to an FOI request. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Figures requested through a freedom of information request by motor neurone disease sufferer and campaigner Gordon Aikman provide cause for alarm, even if the fact that subsequent criticism of provision by Mr Aikman - a former Labour Party official - shows a political motive, endorsed by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and union chief Dave Watson, another Labour office holder. There is, after all, an election on the way.

But regardless of that proviso, the funding of social care is an important issue, and has never been more so than now.

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The recognition that care is better provided at home or in the community rather than in hospital represented a significant moment in health care.

Not only are people happier in their own homes and in their own community, but crucially, care is less expensive to provide there than the cost of long-term bed provision in hospital.

If our policy is influenced so heavily by the cost of such care - and it correctly is - then we have to get this right. The support available has to meet demand, and that means it has to be properly funded and co-ordinated. When care services fail to dovetail, those in need of support are unable to leave hospital because without the recommended level of support outside, they will end up being readmitted.

With Scotland’s ageing population - the so-called ticking demographic time bomb - home care has to be effective, otherwise the cost of looking after the elderly is going to cripple the health budget.

If it is underfunded, it is equally vital that the shortfall is addressed and resolved.

There will be increasing numbers of people who will require care as we live longer, so the level of provision must be kept under regular review.

If it is really the case that people are dying because they haven’t been given a social care package in time, that is clearly unacceptable, and the system is failing them and their families.

There will always be strains and pinch points when it comes to allocating scarce resources in our health and social care services. However, the statistic that more than 12,000 hours of social care which had been approved by authorities went unmet in just one week last year shows the issue is far bigger than that.

Ultimately, it is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure the appropriate level of social care can be made available across the country.

We can’t afford to see home care fail, both for those who currently depend on it and the rest of us, who may well find ourselves among its users in the future.

The election campaign may have only just started, but this vital subject would seem an appropriate one with which to get it going. There needs to be a debate on how much we value this service. Let’s have it fully aired.