Carer shortage: Woman stuck in hospital for 11 monthson July 30, 2023 at 8:56 pm

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The 96-year-old was one of thousands on waiting lists for carers and says she felt “imprisoned”.

Lily looking at the camera

“It’s just this awful feeling of being imprisoned,” said 96-year-old Lily, who was stuck in hospital for nearly a year while waiting for care support to become available.

She is just one of thousands of people in the UK who have been stuck in hospitals or at home due to long waits for care assessments.

Lily was delayed in being discharged despite her being “medically fit”, and because her council had difficulty finding carers to support her at home.

The BBC has found 23% of councils in the UK who provided data had average delays of over a month for care assessments, with some people waiting years for care.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the figures showed a “chronically underfunded system and the pressures councils continue to face”.

The UK government said waiting lists were down but there was “more to do”.

‘When can I go home?’

With no family, Lily has lived on her own in the Vale of Glamorgan for decades.

She was admitted to hospital in February 2022 for an infection and expected to be back home within weeks.

But her stay at Barry Hospital included stretched to 15 months, 11 of which she was fit to leave but had to wait for carers.

“I’ve just been in bed constantly apart from being hoisted sometimes into a chair – I haven’t had my feet on the ground at all,” she said.

Lily sat in her chair with a blanket on her knees and looking away from the camera

“I used to say ‘when can I go home?’ and the social worker would say ‘we’re very short of staff at the moment’.”

She said her council only found carers for her after she threatened to discharge herself from hospital – but said she doesn’t blame staff.

How long are people waiting?

BBC Wales Investigates and the BBC’s shared data unit asked all 203 local authorities in the UK about their average wait for an initial care assessment in the year 2022 to 2023.

Of the 78 who responded, 40% had and average wait of at least three weeks but five had examples of people waiting more than three years.

At least 1,399 people died while waiting for their local authority to arrange a package of care in 2022/23.

Keri Lewellyn

Keri Lewellyn runs a care company in Barry, south Wales, and said staff have “left in their droves” since the pandemic, meaning she only has enough carers for half the number of clients she used to.

“A local Asda pays £13 an hour with no previous experience, so we can’t really compete,” she said.

“A lot of the people who do this job are very loyal – some of them haven’t wanted to leave – but the cost of living pressures recently has meant that they can’t make that choice now.”

Rebecca and Jessica smiling at the camera in their carers uniform

Care workers Rebecca Bevan and Jessica Darch, who work in Barry and Rhoose, said they have also noticed the system is under pressure because of underpaid staff.

Rebecca said: “I think in the bigger picture, care workers in general are looked down upon, they don’t get paid enough for the job that we’re doing and I think that is a massive factor in why there isn’t enough of us out there.”

Nadra Ahmed, from the National Carers’ Association which represents care companies in England, said carer pay was an issue in the country also, while “consistent miscommunication” between health and social care also contributed to delays.

‘Like solitary confinement’

Retired police officer Nigel was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 12 years ago, and said he had to wait three months for carers to be found so he could return home to the Vale of Glamorgan.

“Without them I’d just be stuck in the bed all day. It would be like solitary confinement,” he said.

“I think it’s disgusting people are still out there waiting for carers – there’s people there that can’t have their operations because beds are full of people waiting to come home.”

Nigel outside his house in his wheelchair

The BBC asked councils how many contracts were handed back to them from private companies, and found it was equivalent to over 70,000 hours.

Of those who responded, 74% said staffing was one of the main reasons.

David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA which represents councils in England, said: “These figures show in the most concerning terms the human impact of the level of pressures facing our adult social care system.”

The LGA has warned that additional funding the UK government said is being provided for England would be “absorbed” by “demography, pay and inflationary pressures” and fell “well short of what is needed to allow councils to fully deliver against their Care Act duties”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it is providing up to an additional £7.5bn for social care in England over the next two years to increase wages, reduce waiting times and increase workforce capacity.

The Welsh government, which is responsible for health and social care in Wales, said it was investing £70m this year to improve the pay of carers to £10.90 per hour.

A spokesman for the Vale of Glamorgan Council said it apologised unreservedly to both Lily and Nigel, but that cases such as these were not unique to its area due to a “national crisis in domiciliary care” across the UK.

He said the pandemic and an “acute staff shortage” made the situation more difficult, but that a recruitment drive means waiting lists are now down to “a handful” of cases.

Cardiff and Vale health board said the amount of care Lily needed played a part in how long she stayed in hospital, and Nigel was offered regular therapy while he was in hospital.

A spokesperson said they understood both patients concerns about delays, and was working hard with councils to get people home as soon as possible.

‘I Want To Go Home’ – BBC Wales Investigates is on iPlayer and on BBC One Wales at 20:00 BST, Monday 31 July.

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