DH urged to strengthen guidance to keep older couples together

The Department of Health must issue councils with stronger guidance on adult care assessments to ensure older couples are kept together.

Stephen Lowe, policy adviser for social care at Age Concern, made the call after the DH pledged to hold talks with councils on the issue, which has gained prominence through newspaper stories on couples who have faced separation.

A DH spokesperson said that it wanted to make clear that “other than in exceptional circumstances, couples requiring care should not be split up”.

Assessments must acknowledge relationships

Lowe said the DH’s fair access to care services guidance specified that assessments should take into account people’s need for “social support systems and relationships” and the maintenance of their “family and social roles”.

But he said cases of older people being split up because of funding-driven council decisions showed guidance needed strengthening.

He said he suspected cases where one partner is forced to move into a care home because councils will not fund sufficient care to support them at home were “quite widespread”.

No data on couples being split up

But he said there was no data on the number of cases of couples being split up, a point echoed by Alison Clarke, advice worker at the Relatives and Residents Association, and Dwayne Johnson, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ older people’s network.

Clarke said the association “fairly regularly” came across cases of couples being placed in different care homes, and said: “Obviously, councils have to have an eye on their resources but surely we should be at the stage where we can find the funding to keep couples together.”

Johnson called for research on the problem but said he believed it unlikely that councils were splitting couples up on funding grounds, as “good practice would look to every option” to keep them together.

He suggested a problem would arise where care home places were scarce or there was a lack of extra care provision.

The DH’s announcement came as part of its ongoing dignity in care for older people campaign, alongside news of the appointment of chat show host Michael Parkinson as its national dignity ambassador and campaign figurehead.

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