Charities have slammed “appalling” and “wholly unacceptable” cuts to social care services, which they claim have left almost 12,500 blind and partially sighted older people without the vital support they desperately need.
A joint report by Age UK and RNIB found that social care services for visually impaired older people have been slashed by a “shocking” 36.5% between 2008/09 and 2012/13.
The report – Improving later life for people with sight loss – recognises that social care has been cut for all disabled adults, but warns that visually impaired older people have been disproportionately affected by cuts to community based services.
The charities say that approximately 12,415 people have missed out on vital social care services, such as help getting out of bed, cooking, cleaning, getting washed and dressed and receiving help with eating.
However, the charities warn that this figure could be just the tip of the iceberg. The unmet care needs to older people with sight loss is likely to be even higher, they say.
Failure to meet the care needs of blind and partially sighted older people could result in “considerable consequences” for those affected, the charities warn.
Older people with sight loss are more likely to have multiple health conditions than the general older population. They are also more likely to be on a low-income and be living in poor quality housing, the report says.
Many of those affected are also at a higher risk of injury, with an estimated 87,790 falls each year being attributed to older people with sight loss – 17% of which result in hospitalisation.
The charities say that further cuts to social care services could also result in higher costs to the NHS. Falls are estimated to cost the NHS and social care system around £2.3bn a year.
Age UK and RNIB welcomed the Government’s commitment to a closer integrated health and social care service, but warned that stretched budgets could mean that the full potential may not be realised.
The report makes six key recommendations:
- Empower older people to manage their eye health
- Involve older people in the co-production of services and policy
- Improve professional awareness to better meet the needs of older people with sight loss
- Improve access to support at diagnosis and beyond
- Improve access to peer support and emotional support
- Be ready for ageing and sight loss
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “That so many blind or partially sighted older people who need social care aren’t getting is profoundly shocking.
“Losing our sight is something many of us fear the most, and the idea of struggling alone without social care assistance in such circumstances seems appalling in a civilised society.
“I wish I could say that the Spending Review outcome means the position is set to improve next year, but unfortunately too little money will be coming into social care, too late.
“Even at this late stage we hope the Government will think again.”
Fazilet Hadi, Director of Engagement at RNIB, said: “Social care support can be vital to blind and partially sighted people in later life, enabling them to live with dignity and choice.
“However, older people with sight loss are increasingly missing out on social care and vision rehabilitation services. Being left alone to cope with sight loss in later life is wholly unacceptable.
“No matter how tight government budgets are, this is essential support which must be provided.”