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Common sense and when togetherness is better than being 'rescued'

Blog post 15 May 2017

It was hard to miss last week the news that Britain’s most senior family judge has warned that separating elderly couples in care homes can lead to deaths from broken hearts.

Just about every news stream picked up on Sir James Munby’s comments made during a conference speech to local authority care leaders.

Although such instances were rare, Sir James said no-one should ever be uprooted from their home and other family members against their will.

His call was passionate and would have struck a chord in the heart of most seasoned care workers. I once heard of a case where, in a Midlands nursing home, a devoted husband came and sat all day, every day with his ailing wife and it went on for years.

His devotion touched the hearts of staff. By the time he needed residential care, he didn’t qualify under the nursing criteria and the inevitable sad saga played out its course.

The bottom line in all of theses cases is money, and yes, in these circumstances I too believe it has been the cause of deaths from “broken hearts.” Mammon can be a cruel master, but social work in our care sector is more and more these days a branch of accountancy.

Sir James suggests professionals should take a "common sense" approach and think carefully about recommending that an older person should be separated from their beloved family, home and possessions. 

Common sense is what we all need, but it’s in short supply.

For me it would be common sense for the Government to dig the care sector out of the black hole with some serious financial rescue deal; common sense would focus on realistic fees paid for beds by local authorities; common sense would rein in spending on vanity projects such as HS2 (the time’s just not right); common sense would have heeded the warnings of care sector providers that NHS chaos was imminent; and a common sense response would have headed off the rash discharge delays, operation cancellations and the winter beds crisis.

The judge, who has been president of the High Court's family division since 2013, added that some professionals want to "rescue" patients from "unsatisfactory, unsuitable, rather squalid" surroundings which in some cases they have "literally been born in and lived the whole of their lives". 

Indeed, I believe these kind of cases, as Sir James puts it, foster "personal outrage", but its will be funding criteria and medical need that are the drivers that eclipse, it seems, compassion.

The greater financial implications of keeping couples together in old age has an obvious moral response, but in the real world – and particularly in the arena of social care – hearts seldom rule heads when deciding care criteria.

I wish Sir James well with his campaign for compassion and totally support him in preserving people’s longevity and relationships.

I’d bet any money that this hot potato is NOT included in the political ‘spin’ as we approach the General Election.

Broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, is a real condition caused by shock such as bereavement or separation in which the left ventricle changes shape, weakening the heart muscle. It is normally survivable but can be fatal in elderly people or those with a pre-existing heart condition.