Council cuts could cause deaths among elderly

Severe cuts to social care could cause an increase in preventable deaths among the elderly, warned the Norwich Older People's Forum (NOPF).

Pensioners with no family or friends for support could see vital council services removed from next year as the council struggles to make �155m of savings by 2014.

Lady Joyce Hopwood, chair of the group, said that this could mean an increase in the number of pensioners dying alone at home.

As part of the savings Norfolk County Council has put forward an outline for �53m in savings to its community services budget over the next three years.

Lady Hopwood said the scheme would inevitably lead to a rise in the number of preventable deaths among vulnerable elderly people in the city.

'The Evening News reported two deaths in July, my fear is that is liable to increase,' she said.

'There's likely to be a lot of reports of things going wrong. We already have this happening, I think there will be an increase.

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'As a society we should be protecting the vulnerable, not targeting them.

'These cuts are aimed at older people and children, how can this be the right thing to do?

She criticised the council for failing to act sooner, and said that savings could have been made earlier without removing vital services from those who need it most.

'They've had more than a year's notice that something like this was coming. I wish they had made more effort into joined working before they focused on cuts, because there's so much scope there to save money,' she said.

'There's so much duplication in the system.

'How can you defend scaling back sensory support services so it meets only a statutory requirement?

'This is for people who are potentially deaf and blind, how much can they do for themselves if the support is cut?'

Harold Bodmer, director of community services at the council, was invited to a meeting of the NOPF yesterday in Blackfriar's Hall to justify the cuts to around 100 of its elderly members.

He said that significant savings needed to be made, which may need to go even further than those already proposed.

'Frankly you don't take �80m out of a social care budget by trimming the paper clip budget,' he said.

'We've tried to look at the budget we've got in a way that creates the least damage.'

He said the private sector would be able to provide day care services 'better and more cost effectively' than the council, but that they would need to be monitored to ensure that the 'quality is right'.

James Bullion, assistant director of community services, said: 'They may well have a negative impact. There's no getting away from that.

'It's a question of us prioritising.'

Under the plans those in 'substatial' need, who currently receive free care, would be cut from the budget. Only those in 'critical' need, where life is at risk or there are significant health problems, would be supported.

This would leave 1,100 people currently labelled as in substantial need to fend for themselves or fund their own care.

The 2,264 deemed in 'critical' need of care would continue to receive support.

Alan MacKim, chairman of Age UK Norfolk, said the steps were concerning for elderly people in the city.

'It's not just doubt, it's some real anger and frustration that's bubbling up now,' he said.

'It's going to be disabled people, older people and their families who will be first to feel the results of those cuts.

'There's no justice in that.'

Councillor David Harwood, cabinet member for community services, said: 'We all know that the government is introducing the cuts. They are quite sharp cuts, I openly admit that.

'We feel as though we're between a rock and a hard place with these budgets.

'It's something that's been imposed on us. What we want to do is achieve the best possible outcome,' he added.

t Are you concerned over cuts to social care? Call reporter Matthew Sparkes on 01603 772439 or email