Cuts to respite care are a red line we must not cross

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Have we seriously reached the stage where a proposal to stop respite care for three months is actually tabled as a viable proposition?

I thought I’d seen every possible idea to scrape a few more quid off budget deficits, but this one actually stopped me in my tracks.

The option was unanimously rejected by board members of Fife Health And Social Care Partnership.

It was lodged as part of “the financial recovery plan” – the sort of soul-destroying corporate document every single manager in every business across Fife has opened with a heavy sigh and wondered what fresh hell is about to be unleashed.

But, dear God, respite care?

Surely we cannot have reached this stage?

We are all living longer. Our years of possible frailty, mentally and physically, are extending.

People in their 60s and 70s are caring for elderly parents in their 80s and 90s.

They cope because that’s what partners do.

They cope often to breaking point to keep loved ones at home.

They cope because there is no alternative.

The state no longer has the resource to respond, to offer that safety net that takes away so much of the worry and exhaustion of being a nurse, a carer, a driver, someone who does all the daily tasks from feeding to cleaning, and who then spends every night praying for sleep but knowing it may be broken at any moment.

How on earth are families in that situation supposed to cope if respite care is suddenly stopped for three months? And all to save a pitiful £100,000.

The cost in terms of real damage to people’s lives would have been horrific.

There has to be a better way than this.

However good and compassionate the care teams are – and they have some amazing folk doing their very best – these past few weeks have shown me that finding a way through the system is like entering a maze where all the signposts have been swapped out of sheer devilment.

I never knew that getting respite care meant waiting on the “servicing matching unit” – or procurement team – which effectively touts your case to an agency to see if it has capacity to take you on.

We’re dealing with people - not nuts and bolts to fit into a machine.

I never knew getting a social worker mean waiting. And waiting.

And until they categorise your needs, nothing happens in terms of home care, respite or physio.

I never knew an urgent referral also meant nothing happens for several weeks, and it’s effectively up to you to do the phoning, the chasing, the pleading. Your problem, you pursue it.

And nailing a timescale for action – to let you organise daily life – is a bit like running up a downward escalator. The more you surge forward, the less progress you make.

I cannot imagine doing any of that with no support network, but that’s the reality for many elderly people.

Scrapping respite care is a red line. One that must never be crossed.