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Moving old people out harms

Moving old people out of care homes kills them - and I've got the proof...16th October  2009

The Daily Mail

by Yvonne Hossack

Any day now, Mrs Louisa Watts will be uprooted from the home she loves and dispatched, like a parcel, to an unfamiliar new address.  She doesn't know where she will be sent to live. She is bewildered, tearful and traumatised. If that were not bad enough, at 106, she is one of the oldest people in Britain. She does not want to move. She desperately wants to remain in her council-run care home in Wolverhampton, where she is surrounded by friends. 

Louisa Watts and eight other women from Underhill House care home face being moved after an injunction against its closure was lifted. She wishes to live out her days with carers who are familiar to her, who are dependably kind and who understand her needs. She likes her homely room and she values her stability. Of course she does: nobody of her venerable age would embrace the upheaval of a move. And as a humane society, the very least we owe Mrs Watts is a settled home and peace of mind. 

I have fought to keep her at Underhill House and I write this today not as her lawyer but as a desperately concerned human being. Last week, the Appeal Court in London lifted an injunction preventing the closure of her care home. As a result of its ruling, she and the eight other elderly women who live with her are to be moved. 

This is a wretched business, and as Mrs Watts's solicitor I will continue to do all I can to oppose it.  We have worked through the night on her case to put together her application to the European Court of Human Rights to try to prevent the home's closure. To do otherwise would be to collude in an outrage. 

But, frankly, I have little hope of success. At the weekend there looked to be a glimmer of hope.  Businessman Trevor Beattie offered to finance Underhill House so it could stay open. On Tuesday, however, Wolverhampton Council discarded his gesture. This refusal is appalling, and I fully intend to seek a court order forcing them to consider it. 

Naturally, the various decisions taken by the council and the court over the past week have also infuriated Mrs Watts's son Derek, who's 76 and too old himself to care for his mother. This week, Derek said that he fears any move will 'shorten whatever time she has left'. 

I do not expect a stay of execution for Mrs Watts, because Wolverhampton Council has made it abundantly clear that it intends to move swiftly to close the home. It intends to do so, despite the fact that I have incontrovertible evidence that moving the infirm elderly from their homes undoubtedly shortens their lives. 

I do not make this assertion lightly. During the past seven years, as a solicitor working on behalf of the sick, disabled and old, I have fought through the courts to keep many residents in their care homes. I have had numerous successes: around 80 homes have remained open as a result of action I have taken. 

Sadly, on occasions, I have also failed. I lost one such case in St Helens, Lancashire, in 2003. A group of residents, many suffering from severe dementia, were dispersed to new homes. 

Within 12 weeks, seven had died. The European Court said there was no ' conclusive evidence' that the turmoil of a move to alien surroundings had precipitated their deaths.

I dispute that. And I do so because I have seen similar tragic repetitions of the St Helens case happen time and time again when my elderly clients have been displaced from their homes. 

In Norfolk, six died within 12 weeks of being moved. And I monitored the progress of one particular group of elderly residents in my home town after I failed to halt the closure of their home. 

Solicitor Yvonne Hossack has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the Underhill House residents. I did so with the express purpose of seeing for myself whether the moves brought forth their deaths. The evidence was heartbreaking. I visited a group of five elderly ladies in their new care home twice a week, and I watched them decline with startling rapidity. 

I had known them when they were settled and content in the old home, and their sudden physical and mental disintegration appalled and saddened me. I watched as one lady, Clarrie, who had dementia, forgot how to swallow. Her weight plummeted. She was given fluids, but by the time she died eight weeks after she was moved, she was reduced to skin and bone. 

I saw another, Lily, also become withdrawn and isolated. She had once been sociable and happy. Now she whiled away her days staring blankly out of a window. Within three months she, too, had lost the will to live. 

Annie's death was just as precipitate - she too lasted three months - but she died in mental turmoil. The distress of the move had disturbed her so much that she became aggressive and deeply unsettled. 

My own researches have shown that 37 per cent of those who are subjected to the ordeal of a move die within a year. Figures issued by the National Office of Statistics indicate that those who remain settled comfortably in familiar surroundings have an annual mortality rate of half this. Eminent medical opinion supports me. The psychiatrist Professor Cornelius Katona states that the trauma of a move would, in all probability, shorten the life of an elderly lady such as Mrs Watts, who lost her fight this week, by 25 per cent.

So, of course, I fear for her. And I am incensed that Wolverhampton Council is claiming that it has been forced to move Mrs Watts and her friends because it will cost £2million to bring Underhill House up to 'national standards'. 

This argument is a fallacious one. It is true that national minimum standards are being applied to new care homes. But the law cannot be imposed retrospectively on older properties, which means that Underhill House is exempt. So there are no new rules to comply with; no alterations to be made; no vast sums to be found and spent. 

Besides, Mrs Watts is comfortable in the home she has grown accustomed to for the past five years. She does not covet modernisations. She wants only to be granted peace.

And surely, as a decent, compassionate society, this is the very least we owe her. During her tenure at Underhill House she has grown to know and trust her carers. 

The staff who look after her, day in, day out, perform intensely intimate and personal duties on her behalf. She does not want, at her advanced age, to be introduced to a new team of carers. It may very well be that the staff at her new home are equally kind and solicitous.

But that is not the point. To wrench Mrs Watts away from all that is comfortable and familiar is like taking a young child from its mother. It is, in short, cruel and traumatising.

And let us get one thing clear. Wolverhampton Council has made its decision to close Underhill House for a single reason - and that is to save money. All its residents will now have to go into private care: after all, the private sector provides care which will cost the council less for each elderly person housed there. 

While Mrs Watts and her fellow residents would still be funded by the council, money is still the reason why it wants them moved.  After the home had closed, of course, it would be free to sell to developers the prime plot of land on which Underhill House sits. 

I do not doubt the veracity of their cold financial calculations. I am sure they will save money by moving Mrs Watts. All I was asking was that she should be permitted to live out the rest of her days where she wanted to be. And I would ask all those who had a part in the decision to move her from her home: if it were their mother, would they have steeled themselves to be quite so callous and mercenary?

 

(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1220743/YVONNE-HOSSACK-Moving-old-people-care-homes-kills--Ive-got-proof.html)

 


 
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