Couple married for 48 years separated for five months as thousands in Norfolk wait for carers
PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:38 30 January 2018
More than 3,500 people needing help in Norfolk and Suffolk are waiting for care, including one couple who were separated for five months.
In a sign of the challenge faced by the adult social care system, the number of people on a Norfolk County Council list needing held has quadrupled since 2012.
In one case a couple married for 48 years was forced to live apart for more than five months because of a shortage of carers.
When Sally Goleby, 69, was taken into an Aylsham care home in June last year, she expected to be out in a couple of weeks.
Her husband Eric, who cared for her at their bungalow in Hickling, had suffered a minor stroke and was in hospital.
Two weeks later when Eric, 76, was better and he tried to get her home, the retired store worker was told by Norfolk County Council’s adult social services department that there were no carers available to look after his wife.
“The council just kept saying we can’t get a carer,” he said.
For more than five months he drove to see Sally in the care home, while pestering the council to find a home carer.
Worse, the couple were handed a £1,800 bill by the council to pay for the care home they never wanted. The council has apologised and said they were incorrectly billed.
Their case is unusual but they are not alone.
Around 2,700 elderly and disabled people are on a “holding list”, with the county council. In Suffolk the number is 864.
They are people who have had some contact or help from the council’s adult social services but are waiting for a full care package to be put in place.
Norfolk County Council said new people were coming off the list all the time, while new people were coming on.
It hopes to slash the number of those waiting to 200 by 2020 and is recruiting extra social workers to do that.
Its adult social services department looks after 23,000 disabled people and elderly people. Services can range from round-the-clock care to meals on wheels.
The department’s chief said today they had a plan in place to deal with the backlog and growing demands.
•Keeping more elderly people out of care homes
•Changing the way social workers work
•Recruiting 50 extra social workers
Nationally the care system faces a funding crisis with more elderly people needing more complicated care for long-term illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
A report from the Local Government Association last year warned “circumstances are now veering steadily towards the impossible”.
In Norfolk, adult social services must find £31m of savings over the next three years.
The department’s director James Bullion said they faced four major challenges - more people living longer with complicated illnesses, changing the way their social workers operated, working closer with the NHS, and rising costs in the private care sector.
The council spends around one-third of its budget on adult social care at £260m a year. It has funded the rising costs by increasing council tax by 3pc and using £18m of extra government funding.
To reform, Norfolk has now introduced a care system called Living Well.
Mr Bullion said under the new system social workers would do less work filling in forms and have more detailed conversations with the person about what they needed.
Head of transformation in the department Debbie Bartlett said: “In the old system social workers were almost becoming coordinators of care rather than actually social workers.”
But while it reforms, the council also needs to clear its backlog of the 2,700 people waiting for help.
Mrs Bartlett said a team was now working on getting that number down.
Susan Ringwood, from Age UK Norwich, said elderly people referred by the council to the charity’s day centre on Marion Road seemed to be waiting longer. “If we saw people sooner we could keep them in their own homes for longer,” she said.
Former care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the figures showed the pressure the system was under.
“I have had cases where people have waited months for a care package to be sorted out,” he said. “These are vulnerable people and in many cases there is no one fighting for them.”
He is one of a group of MPs who have called on the Government to address the funding crisis in adult social care, but he said they had been met with “inertia”.
The number of people over 90 in Norfolk and Waveney has increased by 1,800 in five years and is now more than 12,000.
And for every child under the age of 12 in North Norfolk, there are three pensioners.
Chair of the county council’s adult social care committee Bill Borrett said it was fantastic people were living longer but for some people it meant living unwell for longer, putting more pressure on the system.
Demand on the council’s adult social services is rising by about 8pc a year.
And the number of people aged over 65 is due to increase by 31pc in the next 15 years.
Mr Borrett said: “It is not an easy area (politically) as the last election demonstrated, but it is going to have to be addressed.”
In the 2016 election Conservative proposals to fund adult social care were dismissed as a ‘dementia tax’.
The Government is due to put out a green paper this summer with proposals in.
•From heavy drinking to volunteering
Under its new way of looking after people, called Living Well, the council’s social workers are finding more imaginative ways of helping people.
To do this they are spending more time going out and speaking to those needing care.
In one case the team in east Norfolk was called by someone worried about their neighbour not looking after himself.
A social worker went to see him and spent a long time talking to him, the council said.
They realised he was isolated and lonely which was badly affecting his health and causing him to drink too much.
The social worker tried to get him to use services for alcohol dependency but he did not want to.
Instead the worker encouraged him to volunteer. It took a further two phone calls from the social worker but on the third call back, the person said they were enjoying volunteering two days a week.
•Do you have a story about the care system? Email our health correspondent email@example.com or call 01603 77 2446