In early February an elderly man was lying in the road in the village of Cove in the Rosneath peninsula. Two cars had already driven past him and left him there.
He had superficial cuts and insisted on going home. He has difficulty in walking and had fallen on a walk into the village – down a steep hill (School Road) , to top up the power card that secures his access to heat and light.
A couple who had gone to his assistance, got his power card topped up, went home for their car and took him to his house in Fairfield Gardens – armed with sticking plaster and disinfectant to patch him up.
When they got there, they found his house – an ACHA house – in an all-but-indescribable condition.
It was filthy; freezing; with carpets wet by the door (possibly wet by his dog); an awful mess they took to be vomit was around a radiator and up the wall but proved to be old dog food. His bed had no bedding – just a mattress and an old sleeping bag. The sitting room was a bombsite, without heat, television or phone.
This enfeebled old man – who was once, like all elderly folk, very different, is still alert – but unable. He is terrified of being forced to go into a home and to lose his dog.
He has been absolutely let down by systemic failures in disconnected social services who have not picked up and monitored his case and have not even ensured that an annual cleaning blitz actually happened. It didn’t.
The couple who found him were appalled at the condition he was living in and in their attempts to pull together the supposedly ‘responsible’ authorities to stabilise his care, say that they found a general capacity to evade responsibility, a lack of interest in getting involved – although these are all people who are paid to do jobs in services which exist to support the vulnerable and unable.
In the case of ACHA they found abrupt dismissal and their own concern treated with what they describe as ‘disdain’. The local medical practice manager said ‘Its nothing to do with us’ and told the pair to phone their MP. It is not the MPs responsibility. Social and health services are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and delivered through heath authorities and councils.
As we understand the chronology, they got the elderly gentleman into hospital, the Vale of Leven where the only merciful coincidence is that he appears to have avoided emerging from there with a hospital acquired infection.
Many of the hospital staff are said to have been: ‘… very kind and concerned and helpful but due to rules and regulations were unable to take the case to a rational place..unless the patient asks for it’.
This familiar folly conveniently assumes that patients are in a position to know what to ask for and to be able to do so. It takes no account of the condition of despair to which the vulnerable are reduced in these circumstances. Where is the evidence that would leave anyone, in however dire straits, to believe that they only had to ask? And do they?
This particular old man also suffers a degree of brain damage from an earlier accident in his life. He is, though, articulate at a level that allows him to present a front that would fool anyone who had not bothered to get to know him. No one checks the validity of statements such patients make.They just tick the box and write the notes.
This man told the occupational therapist that he managed his washing fine by sending things to the launderette. Had the woman who chose to help him not been there to hear this nonsense, this information would have been on his notes.
After two weeks, the hospital was perfectly prepared to discharge the man – in the full knowledge of the conditions of squalor and physical risk, described above, that awaited him.
With no responsibility taken for the man’s circumstances, and with no evidence of care for or interest in it, this couple took it upon themselves to sort out a home to which he could safely return.
They thoroughly cleaned the house. They decorated it. They replaced its carpets. They installed curtains, a fridge, furniture and stocked his larder. They also got him a basic mobile phone so that he had some means of making contact with the outside world. They bought him clothes.
They cleared, painted, repaired this entire property.
They sent a card to complain about the pile of debris in the garden. This was in fact waiting to be lifted by the council – at £51.50 for 10 minutes – already arranged by the couple in question.
When the gentleman came home from hospital, they stayed to make sure that he settled in. They had arranged for carers to come in – who arrived to see to his medication and to ensure that he had an evening meal. The power supply in his house tripped out three times. The male partner in the couple concerned was able to restore power but there was clearly an inherent electrical problem which had not been attended to.
They had less than assistance in doing what they did for this old man. A window smashed for emergency entry a month previously had not been repaired on the day they found him – and in fact had not even been repaired when he came home from hospital.
He rang them at 9.00am the following morning. The power had failed again and he had been without heat and light all night (this was in February). The carers arrived to give him breakfast – and, of course, could not do so.
The woman partner of the compassionate couple phoned Scottish Gas about the power problem but, so long as the meter shows power coming into the house, it’s not their problem, They directed the her to ACHA.
Her experience with ACHA’s so called hotline 24/7 number is a sacking matter of its own – but suffice it to say that she was unable to make contactv after long sustained attempts. She says: ‘ I phoned social work…..I phoned police……..both horrified and impotent.’
She describes ACHA’s conduct throughout as ‘obstructive and unhelpful’.
The couple had all sorts of problems getting keys to the house and met a lack of interest or involvement in solving this and indeed any problem from almost every quarter.
Interestingly, one social worker appeared to be at her most active in helping the woman of the couple to get some sort of note signed by the elderly man to give her the status of being ‘a significant person’ in his life – so that he became HER responsibility. She may now give and receive information about him and take care of his finances to a certain extent.
Finally she managed to link up with a male social worker she identifies as Paul Comrie who seems to have been active, proactive and engaged. This was a blessed relief to the folk doing all they could alone. It was a unique experience in a matter where two uninvolved but concerned human beings were never going to walk away and leave an elderly man to potential hypothermia, malnutrition and injury.
Because the commitment this particular social worker showed was unprecedented in the woman’s experience during this horror story of neglect, she is naturally almost absurdly grateful to him. This sort of response is human – but says a lot about the general responses we have been educated to anticipate. In this instance, while Mr Comrie’s attitude to his work is exemplary, it is what we expect of all we pay to do such jobs. No one should be any different.
With the exception of the couple who took care of this man out of a spirit that dignifies humanity, this awful saga exemplifies the box-ticking disengaged core services we pay to have available for those who need them – which will include most of us some day.
This episode – which will not be an isolated one – shames Argyll and Bute.
We do not want to hear excuses and procedural explanations for any part of this.
We do not want to hear that this man has been separated from his dog and put into a home. He needs a constant in his life that does care about him. He can live on his own if he has the daily care and support services he is supposed to be entitled to receive.
We need some management capability here. Is this even possible?
We note that the Executive Director responsible for social services is one Cleland Sneddon, whose excursions in Argyll and Bute – beyond his twice failed attempts to close up to 26 rural primary schools – include his headship of the department removing funding for all social day care from all but the immediately urgent cases.
There is a very straightforward answer to the lack of what we call ‘joined up’ responsibilities.
We do not need in the council education department – also under Mr Sneddon – the fleet of hugely expensive and laughably entitled Quality Improvement Officers and, newly, Quality Improvement Managers to organise them.
We need to see those salaries spent on more social workers – who do properly the job they are paid to do and whose job empowers them alone to call the shots with any other service required to deliver assistance to anyone for whom their case load makes them responsible.
We understand from those concerned that when they brought the matter to the attention of local councillors. As it is a constituency affair Councillor George Freeman is taking it up, with Councillors James Robb and Danny Kelly to be informed. In our view, the more councillors who agitate about wrongs of this order, the more likely they are to get a result.
We look forward to hearing what support or obstruction Councillor Freeman has encountered.
Footnote: The woman in the couple who took responsibility for this situation is so angry she is often less than coherent about what she encountered on this unanticipated challenge. That anger, that sense of impotence, that experience of seeing official disdain for the pain of others, that desperation in being unable to nail down where responsibilities for anything actually lie – drove her to do something completely uncharacteristic. With hours to go to the close of nominations for the local authority elections, she threw in her nomination and is standing as a candidate. She has reason to know that there are people who need others to speak for them – more than the rest of us can imagine.
She is now close to buckling under the strain of what she has, perforce, taken on. As we were preparing this article last night (10th April, when she literally picked him up back in February), she emailed: ‘I had to drive to ASDA today to get a microwave. He had no power again for cooking tonight. The cooker was condemned by an ACHA electrician today who arrived and left in the time it took me to brush my teeth and get up to his house after I had seen the van. He did not test the appliances, I don’t think but he condemned the cooker…My partner says that the cooker should be on a separate circuit but he is a prop man not an electrician. He (the old man) needs a washing machine. I am doing the laundry just now. There is no plumbing in the house for a washing machine…His electric meter is using about £5 a day which seems a lot with these old storage heaters..Not good. I can’t get his tv up and running as the scaffolding is preventing a dish for reception and I am very aware that he is getting more mobile and bored…he will end up going out and getting rum…if we cant get others to help bolster the help I am giving. I have done no housework for a week. My family are beginning to suffer. It;s going to fall apart without support.’
This is what that awful Thatcherite escape clause ‘care in the community’ means.