Last night I thought about getting out the old goose down duvet when, after weeks of warm days and nights the temperature plummeted. The duvet is a treasure found in a sale in Germany years before they were commonplace in the UK, and just the thought of having it to hand is comforting. It comes into its own in the Winter months. Winter is not a kind time for older people. Some 800,000 old folk are already at risk, according to Age UK, facing catastrophe because they need care but can’t obtain it. Over-stretched hospital A & E Departments are bracing for a huge surge of older patients .
Now we read that NHS England is to share £2 million amongst eight charities to help them run projects to help keep the elderly out of hospitals this winter. It’s the first time national funds have been used in this way. The aim is to help the elderly so they avoid the falls and health problems that can mean admission to hospital and, for those who do need hospital treatment, better support when they are discharged so they don’t end up going back in again.
It’s a good idea and it will be great if it works. The report doesn’t say how the charities are going to be able to manage this. Last year the British Red Cross complained that its volunteers were being left ‘to pick up the pieces’ amid a growing crisis in care of the elderly.
The fact is that people need people. But natural every day contacts, such as the milkman with his daily deliveries and meals on wheels have largely disappeared, sunk by changing life styles, the supermarkets and the cost of red tape. Neighbours, who used to pop in to make sure old folk were OK, are all at work, and so are adult children. Also, many are no longer living near their parents and relatives.
Winter brings dark days, in more ways than one. But all over the country, churches are shining lights into older people’s lives. Many churches are running programmes for older people, both in the fellowship and in the neighbourhood. They run lunch clubs, afternoon events and some have even set up ‘home help’ type schemes. I heard of a council leader in Wales who was so impressed with the help his mother received from her church when she was ill that he directed the Social Services department to include churches when planning their resources. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a readily available government fund for local churches to help support the vulnerable old in their neighbourhoods? It could help strengthen what they are already doing, and make such a difference.