“The healing touch” by Michele Angelo Petrone
Yesterday my local MP and Care Services Minister Paul Burstow was speaking on Panorama (November 1st 8.30pm BBC) about the need to reduce the use of anti-psychotic drugs for dementia patients. He suggested that GPs “take responsibility” and drastically reduce the amount of drugs being prescribed. He suggested that the evidence shows that those drugs that are used to control aggressive behaviour – have dangerous side effects.
Mr Burstow said the evidence for cutting their use is compelling:
“It kills people. It cuts their lives short. It reduces the quality of their lives. It is now time for those responsible for prescribing to take responsibility and cut the prescribing, and make sure we improve the quality of life for people with dementia.“
In the same programme Panorama visited Spring Mount – a residential care home in Yorkshire that avoids relying on anti-psychotic drugs for dementia patients. There they believe strongly in better staff training and coping techniques for their patients and they are an example of some of the best care in our society.
I would agree that the move away from some of the anti-psychotic medications is right, however, if we are going to responsibly cut prescribing we must also take responsibility as a society to care well for some of those who are most venerable in our society.
According to the Hospital Episode Statistics: Admitted Patient Care – England 2009/10, the number of patients aged 75 and over has risen by two thirds (66 per cent) in the past decade. The number of 60-74 year olds being admitted also rose by 48 per cent. This compared to an average increase of 38 per cent.
Ruth Sutherland, Interim Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society commented on their web site:
‘It is important we don’t accept these steep increases in the number of older people being admitted to hospital as an inevitable consequence of an ageing population. Many of these admissions could be avoided if better help and support was available at an earlier stage, preventing the need for expensive and distressing crisis care later on.
‘ People with dementia represent a very large proportion of these admissions. As many as one in four people on hospital wards have the condition and many stay in hospital far longer than necessary. Investing in care in the community now would enable many of these people to stay at home for longer and could help save the NHS millions of pounds.’
If we are going to rightly reduce the use of drugs which sedate people with dementia and enable them to be care for at home we should increase the training and support to our caring staff and carers.
I like you will know paid and un paid carers that are superb at what they do and I know how hard it is and how much it takes out of them. The challenge for this government is to take what they plan to save in prescribing and divert it into support and training – I also know how hard that is going to be and we as a society needs to speak up for the type of caring society we are looking for.
Audrey Jenkinson in her book “Past caring” Audrey Jenkinson (“Past Caring” Promenade Publishing 2001) records the journeys of many carers and underlines the truth that there are over 7milliomn informal cares in the UK and that most carers and past carers feel isolated and alone. She says
“Words seem inadequate to capture the depth of emotion that is at the core of each individual’s experience. Feelings are to be felt, lived.”
Audrey goes on to write that
“I know I must die. It is how that is difficult to reconcile. It was not so much my parent’s deaths that scarred me but what they went through in their lives. If we could choose our deaths, oh joy! Choose our lives, what then? Thee would surely be a shortage of carers?”
If there is going to be improvements in the care of those with long term conditions care needs to improve for those with dementia and clearer strategies for carers need to be improved.
Let us hope that Paul Burstow continues to fight for the improvement of care he has always talked and I know that many who will be only to willing to support him as he does it.
One organisation is Carers UK, they have been at the forefront of supporting carers and proving them with a voice. I have had the privilege in recent years to have been involved the Sutton Carers Centre who this year are the charity supported by the Borough’s Mayor. And I have no hesitation in recommending them to you if you are a carer.
Let us hope that as we face choices about spending in the future that we will all remember those most vulnerable and make the choices which create a more caring society building on the best we already have.