CARE HOMES - THE TRUTH: ‘Mum was a tick on a piece of paper’

Christine Abram with a photo of her mum
Christine Abram with a photo of her mum
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As part of a unique collaboration between the Lancashire Evening Post and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), we lift the lid on care homes across the Lancashire.

Christine Abram’s mother had always been an independent woman. But two years ago, dementia started leaving its mark, to the point where she couldn’t look after herself anymore.

One day, Christine walked into the house to find her mother collapsed on the floor. At the hospital that evening, she would be told her mother “wasn’t fit to go home”. It was then clear for everybody that she needed a care home.

More than 53,000 people were living in care homes in the North West last year, with the figure predicted to rise.

Christine, a city councillor who lives in Cottam, Preston, found making informed choices about care difficult, confusing and expensive.

“The experience of finding a care home was awful,” says Christine, whose mother died five weeks after their search for a place was finally over.

“On Christmas week, a social worker sat me down with just a tick list. I was simply told ‘she needs a care home, go find her one’. I didn’t receive any guidance, anything,” she says.

“If they provided someone to talk to and go through things with me, it would have helped a lot. And then my mum would’ve become a human being again. I felt like she was a tick box on a piece of paper. It was quite impersonal.”

Christine’s mother was one of the 18,528 adults over 65 who were provided social care by the Lancashire County Council in 2012. In the majority of cases, people or their families are left to find a care home by themselves, often relying on little more than just word of mouth.

Those applying for financial support from their local authority undergo an initial Needs or Care Assessment. The eligibility criteria for this stage differ from council to council – Lancashire County Council provides support only to those identified as ‘Critical’ or ‘Substantial’.

If a person is found as having “eligible needs”, what follows is a means test to determine exactly how much an individual should contribute towards their own care.

Under national guidelines, those with assets under £14,250 will be funded by the state, while those who own more than £23,250 will be expected to fund their own care.

A report by Independent Age UK found that in 2013, only 17 per cent of authorities refer people to an independent financial adviser.

Ellen Fay is a Preston solicitor specialising in elderly care advice. She said: “Unfortunately, people come to us when a relative is in crisis – on the point of being discharged from the hospital into a care home – and they have to make a decision at a very difficult time. Social services are not providing sufficient information.”

Like Christine, families often choose care homes located close to home.

She said: “I didn’t know anything about funding so I went into a care home without even understanding what it might cost or who would pay for it.

“She didn’t like being in there, she used to cry and ask me to take her out of there. It was horrible to live with. When you’re going through that emotion, you welcome support. And there wasn’t any.”

Finding the appropriate residential care home is particularly challenging for self-funding clients. Last year, Independent Age approximated that around 175,000 people in England pay for their care.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that last year, Lancashire County Council spent £2,231,751 on 157 self-funded individuals who, due to various circumstances, fell back on the council’s support. The figure for 2012 stands at £3,038,334.

What happens once this shift occurs is not clear either.

Christine said: “My friend’s mother-in-law just went into a care home as self-funded. She doesn’t know what will happen when the funding goes down.

“When the money’s run out, can she stay where she is?

“We don’t know.”

Confused by the cost of care? Visit our simple calculator here to help you make sense of your finances.