Thousands of older people in Wales in need of social care are being left to cope as best they can by themselves. Or they rely on unpaid care from family and friends. And many of these unpaid carers are close to breaking point. These are the findings of our new report, Why are we still waiting? Delays in social care in Wales.
While those with the most urgent needs are being supported, thousands are being left struggling on lengthy waiting lists. The longest reported wait for an individual to be assessed by a local authority was 1,122 days. Our advice services recorded an 89% surge in enquiries about community care. These are up from 2,787 in the pre-pandemic year to 5,254 in 2022/23. Our research shows a partial but important picture of the scale of delays in response to this need.
Why are we still waiting?
These stark findings are based on discussions with local authorities in Wales and our advice and support services, as well as analysis from our annual survey What Matters to You. This is our second annual report on delays in access to social care in Wales for people aged 55 and over. We wanted to know if the changes local authorities told us about last year were making improvements to older people’s access.
One person we spoke to as part of this research told us about the huge challenges they‘ve faced in trying to get social care:
“I’ve been providing a lot of unpaid care to my mother, despite having my own health conditions which has made coping very difficult. I have been struggling to keep on top of information as well as help my mum with numerous health appointments. When I finally contacted social services for help in April 2023, I was told that there will be a 12-month wait for my mum to have a care assessment. Since contacting social services, I’ve not had any contact from them at all, despite explaining why my mum needs the help so badly.”
As our report states, it is vital that earlier help becomes available. We call for an urgent focus on those waiting more than a month for an assessment. Another woman told us: “I have cared for my husband for 11 years without a break. It is physically and mentally draining.”
We found poor communication with older people waiting for care in local authorities across Wales. The information they receive also needs to be improved. There is a concern that the real picture could be worse due to differences in data collection, so we call on the Welsh Government to help local authorities improve their recording systems.
This report urges regional partnership boards, local authorities, third sector service providers, and community groups to work together to improve the availability of intervention and prevention services. Additionally, the third sector needs to be sustainably funded on a longer-term basis.
It also urges local authorities to share good practice and to speed up efforts to provide help for unpaid carers – many of whom are struggling to cope. And it calls on local authorities to assess whether their information and advice to support older people is accessible to the thousands of people who are digitally excluded.
Despite the huge pressures, local authorities are working hard to reduce waiting lists by introducing innovative working practices. For example, several authorities are encouraging the development of micro-enterprises to deliver lower-level care needs. Others are introducing community-based activities such as gardening and walking, and support closer to where people live.
However, local authority efforts have been hampered by the cost-of-living crisis, and a less healthy Welsh population with more complex needs following the pandemic.
A dignified life
Last year our dementia advocacy project, our HOPE (Helping Others to Participate and Engage) advocacy project, and Age Cymru Advice were all reporting worrying delays in older people being assessed by social care for their needs, as well as delays in sourcing care packages once an assessment had been completed. This new report does not find that matters have improved. Efforts on social care recovery have continued this year, but their impact has been reduced as a result of a population that now has a higher need for care and support.
Age Cymru’s chief executive Victoria Lloyd says: “We’ve known for some time that social care in Wales has been struggling, with many older people and their carers not getting the support and care they need to live a dignified life. However, what this report shows is the extent of the problem which runs deeply in all areas of Wales.”
“It also demonstrates the need for urgent action so that older people are not kept waiting for lengthy periods while their health and well-being deteriorate. And whichever models of care we develop, it is crucial that we place older people and their needs and aspirations at the heart of social care. We must all recognise care staff for their professionalism and dedication.”
You can read the full report here or call 029 2043 1571 for a paper copy. If you would like to share your experiences of accessing social care, please call Helen Twidle on 029 2043 1571 or send an email.
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