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Healthcare or lack thereof: Lessons from UK – loneliness is knocking our doors, too!

Oct 27, 2013

From North America the stage now moves to the UK. In her ‘Letter from London’ (ET of 21/10/13), titled “No Country for Old Men and Women”, Sudeshna Sen talks about Brits being rapped for not taking care of the elderly. India should start worrying.

She cites the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying it’s a “national shame” that Britain’s society is not taking care of its elderly people, and that the Brits should “learn” from oriental societies where putting old grandma in a home is the last resort and not the first.

Apparently, his research tells him that about 800,000 people in the UK suffer from loneliness. This comes in the wake of a series of scandals about private care homes that neglected their patients to death. The author also quotes BBC according to which 15% of old people live with their children – and most do not want to.

Loneliness is a side effect of a larger problem every ageing society is grappling with: care for the elderly in an era of increased longevity – says the column. By just saying that people should be nice to their old folks and the problem will vanish – the health secretary has only trivialized it. The column reminds him that those same oriental societies he wants to emulate are struggling with the same problems – as in the rest of the world, and if you leave out the Scandinavian societies, nobody’s found any decent answers.

In China, with its four grandparents to one child syndrome, the authorities are worried about elderly care. In India, the problem is even worse, because it’s just not recognized. The onus of elderly care is squarely on the shoulders of the family. The state, the larger community and even charities don’t consider this a burning issue. While over 20% of its population is lonely in China or Europe, that’s not the case in India, yet. If we were to account for the rising labour and real estate costs, costs of living and chronic medical support, availability of trained geriatric carers and urbanization as a few of the factors. India isn’t there yet, but we’ll get to this point in a couple of decades.

The author goes on to warn India not to repeat the mistakes that Britain made. In the welfare / nanny state of mind, UK’s elderly problem was solved by the care home industry. It was financed to some degree by the government but with vast contributions from families and individuals. Even care homes that are now charged with close to manslaughter cost about GBP 3000 a month. Usually they take your life savings or your home, and promise to take care of you in your dotage. Somewhere down the line, like everything else, they privatized it all.

It led to the Southern Cross debacle financed by PE firm Blackstone, Southern Cross was UK’s largest care home chain. They expanded, took on huge corporate debt, went real estate ballistic and went bust; leading to dodgy practices and deaths from negligence. Says the author – In India, I increasingly hear about care homes or what real estate developers call ‘retirement’ projects. What she says I don’t hear is any regulation or standards, or monitoring, or binding long-term legal parameters that will ensure that when I’m gaga, they still have to deliver what they promised.

A very strong message and a loud wake-up call indeed!             

From → Articles, Healthcare

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