28% of NHS social care users say health has declined during pandemic

New research also finds one in seven people needed hospital treatment due to lack of support

A survey of people who receive social care has found more than a quarter of those questioned saying they have seen their health deteriorate during the coronavirus pandemic.

The poll, which covered more than 4,000 people with social care needs and carers, was carried out by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), a grouping of more than 70 British charities campaigning for better funding of the care system. Among social care respondents in the survey, 28% said their health had declined in the pandemic period, and one in seven people (14%) required hospital treatment due to a lack of care.

The CSA reported that older and disabled people had been left struggling with daily activities and were missing medical appointments, and a quarter of those who said they had trouble carrying out daily activities reported that they were not given help by authorities when they asked for it.

About 15% of respondents said they felt neglected and 18% felt scared when asked how they felt about the care they had received during the pandemic. Of people with learning disabilities, 34% said they felt lonely or isolated and 25% had not been able to leave the house due to a lack of support.

The research also suggested that the health of unpaid carers had been affected by their responsibilities, with 41% of those who took part in the study reporting that their health had deteriorated.

The CSA said the results showed that poor social care “undermines” people’s health, makes it “difficult or impossible” for people and their carers to live fulfilling lives, and piles pressure on the NHS.

The body called for the government to urgently bring forward its proposals for reforming the care sector, which it has pledged to set out later this year, and to address service and staffing gaps. It also called for improvement in the quality of social care, and greater work to ensure people can access the help they need.

The report quoted Sue Gallagher, who cares for her husband, Bernard, who has Lewy body dementia. She said she had experienced first-hand the impact of the lack of social care during the pandemic. Bernard ran away from the care home he was staying in to give her some respite, and ended up spending 11 weeks in hospital, a situation she believes could have been avoided if she had been given greater support while caring for him at home.

“The lack of adequate social care support before the pandemic started was a real issue and because of a lack of care during the pandemic he spent much more time in hospital than should have been necessary,” she was quoted as saying. “Families like mine continue to find things difficult. I’m worried about the lack of support for people’s conditions, as well as for their loved ones at home.”

Caroline Abrahams, CSA co-chairwoman and charity director at Age UK, said some older people had rejected care out of fear they would contract coronavirus by bringing people into their homes. Others had received an “erratic or reduced” service due to staffing shortages.

“Our new survey shows how a lack of social care during the pandemic has diminished the lives of many older and disabled people, and their unpaid carers, and put their health at risk,” she said. “This has piled further pressure on the NHS when this was the last thing our overstretched health services needed.

“As we start to imagine a world beyond Covid-19, it is vital that the government extends its pandemic funding for care services and follows through on its pledge to bring forward reform proposals to fix social care, once and for all.”

• This article was amended on 16 March 2021 to remove two references to “NHS social care”. Most social care is provided through local authorities. Also, the survey said that 41% of carers reported a deterioration in health; an earlier story version gave this as 17%.

Contributor

Molly Blackall

The GuardianTramp

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