Regular visitors will know that 'Care for the Elderly' is one of my major interests. I was associated with a care home company for almost 3 years - until I stood aside to focus on the General Election. And I've been involved with a charity, RESEC (Research into Specialist Elderly Care) for the last two years. Last Sunday, I watched the Politics Show, where the health spokesmen of the three main parties fought like rutting stags about this issue. None of us was any the wiser when the rut was over. I watched despairingly. Anyway, lets reflect more calmly.
Over the last two years, there has been much government sponsored debate about how care is to be paid for, initiated from both Westminster and Cardiff. A few months ago, I attended an excellent discussion in the House of Commons, led by Lord Freeman. Personally I'd accepted that there would be little progress on this hugely important issue until after the General Election, and we find out the true state of the public finances - and the real cost of repairs. But in September, Gordon Brown made it a political football by kicking all the discussion into touch, and announcing that the Labour Government planned to pass legislation which provided free personal care for the 280,000 in most need. No intention of ever introducing such legislation of course. It was a gimmick, designed to portray the Conservatives as 'uncaring' when they reasonably asked how it was going to be paid for. Using the most vulnerable in a horribly cynical way.
Inter-party discussion was dead until after the General Election. Similar situation to the merger of trauma A&E in Shropshire. Last October, discussion on this issue was postponed. The problem hasn't gone away. But I reckoned no rational debate was possible. Luckily, the CEO of the Hospital Trust, Tom Taylor (who today so disappointingly announced he was leaving) agreed. Also today, the only Labour MP in Shropshire and Mid Wales, David Wright described Conservatives as 'scum sucking pigs'. Even Sunday's 'rutting stags' were nothing like that bad. Utterly disgraceful, but no good moan. Its just the way it is - and we've got eleven more weeks of this!
So where do we go from here. The Labour Minister is organising a conference on the issue. This looks like a stunt to me. Organise a conference by all means, but hold it on May 7th. This is an issue that's being considered years too late - eleven more weeks won't make much difference. Some elderly people are living in appalling conditions. We must change the balance of 'healthcare' investment from extending life to making that extension a worthwhile experience. We need to find a way of persuading people to see investment in their own end-of-life care as a personal responsibility. Personally, I don't support the idea of levying a flat rate additional 'Inheritance Tax'. That's not persuasion - that's just taxation. Best idea I've heard so far came from a man named Anoup Treon, owner of the care company I worked with. His idea is to allow people to invest in some sort of 'Care Account' which could be passed free of Inheritance Tax to the next generation if not used. Whatever, this issue will be a major challenge for the next Government, and I'd love to be involved in the debate.