Isolated elderly people failed by the system | Letter

I read your article on loneliness, and the communities secretary’s encouragement to “connect with our older neighbours” (Government announces £7.5m fund to fight loneliness in England, 29 December). My wife and I (retired, IT-savvy and still fit professionals) recently did that, and were shocked to realise how profoundly many old people have been cast adrift in modern Britain.

Our elderly neighbour is unable to access the internet and email. He also struggles to use his mobile phone. In short, he is cut off from the primary means of communication with medical and other services, especially during the Covid pandemic. He is competent and assertive, but has lost the means to act.

I caught up with him as he inched along on crutches. “How are you?” I asked. His answer shocked me. “I’m so depressed. I wish I had a suicide pill.” In earlier times he has been independent, feisty and upbeat.

We felt obliged to help and came to realise how powerless elderly people in his position are. He has a minimal support network and for the last year he has relied on us to drive him to and from hospital for three appointments to get surgery. They were pointless because key personnel or documents were absent. Promises to rectify omissions and issue new appointments were not kept.

As a result, we decided to become his “agent” and get access to his medical records, to push the hospital to advance his treatment. This process is obscure and bureaucratic. Applying for a blue parking badge on his behalf is even harder, not least because he has no valid passport, extant birth certificate or medical documentation.

As well as his Covid-19 isolation in sheltered accommodation, where communal areas have been closed, he has been cut off in other ways. No one came to restore his central heating, the charity worker who does his shopping has stopped coming, and the local GP practice responded inadequately to his recent heart attack. He may now be ineligible for the operation he needs.

The support services he relies on have clearly let him down, as has the NHS. Since he cannot manage modern channels of communication, is it any wonder that he is depressed? My wife and I have been able to offer tea, sympathy and help. How many other elderly people urgently need the same? This requires more radical action than “picking up the phone or writing a letter”, Mr Jenrick.
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