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Don’t Step on the Cracks

Claire Carberry,Partner at DMH Stallard solicitors, who specialises in the legal aspects of elderly care, explores the grey area of supporting those with varying needs, and advises how loved ones can ensure vulnerable individuals needs’ don’t get missed.

As a child I was always careful not to step on the cracks – ‘keep to the squares or the bears will get you’ (go and read AA Milne’s ‘Lines and Squares’ if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about). At least if there was a bear down the cracks, you’d know what you were dealing with and the ordeal (probably) wouldn’t last long.

As you get older you might not care about walking on the cracks but when you reach old age you may start to fall through them.

Society can often be viewed as a mix of those who ‘have’ and those who ‘have not’, the assumption generally being that those who ‘have’ are lucky. Our state welfare system is set up to support those who ‘have not’ but this tends to be interpreted as those who do not have financial wealth. This leaves those who ‘have’ (money) in a perilous position. Whatever the Care Act says, the fact of the matter is that if you have money, you are not seen as the state’s problem.

Mr X lived with his wife at home. He has dementia, she was his carer. When she died, he was placed in care on an emergency basis. It was only when we were contacted by a concerned neighbour that formalities started to be dealt with - and this was some months after his wife had died. When we visited his property the fridge was still full, the fruit in the fruit bowl was unrecognisable, his house plants were all dead and his wife’s soiled bedding was still on the bed. True, he was being cared for but was in a small room at the first home that could be found and had no personal belongings with him.

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Neither Mr X nor Mrs Y have close family. Luckily they both have neighbours who are prepared to look out for them and, in Mrs Y’s case, carers with a conscience. But what of those who do not?

Often no-one is willing to take responsibility. Does it have to get to the stage where safeguarding is required for someone to act on behalf of a vulnerable person?

required for someone to act on behalf of a vulnerable person?”

Mrs Y has gout in both feet, as diagnosed by the GP four days ago. District nurses go in to dress her feet and she has private carers to deal with her food and personal needs. She has not yet had an assessment by the occupational therapist. As a result she does not have any aids and cannot transfer from the bed to the toilet. The carers are not medically trained to deal with her toileting needs. She is self-funding so the local authority is not involved. No-one is formally appointed to act for her. If the OT doesn’t come soon, the carers will have to report a safeguarding issue.

“Does it have to get to te stage where safeguarding is

So many people feel that they have to struggle alone, particularly those who do not have a good family support network. The Care Act introduced a duty for the local authority to provide guidance, however, this isn’t always easy to source or to understand and the whole thing can be a confusing mess, even for those of us involved in it on a day to day basis.

It is vital that these vulnerable people are made aware of their options as early as possible. A person with capacity can make their own arrangements and, if there isn’t an obvious family member around, they can appoint a professional person such as a solicitor to act on their behalf so that, if they do lose capacity or struggle in any way, they have someone to act for them.

If a person has already lost capacity, someone can apply to the Court of Protection to be appointed as a Deputy to act for them and again, if there is no-one obviously suitable, a solicitor can act. Hopefully that will prevent a safeguarding issue arising in the first place – and help them step over the cracks.

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