March 17, 2003 07:00
By Katy Edwards and Jonathan Barnes
A DISABLED woman fears she might have to leave her husband and move into an old people's home at the age of 56 because of a shortage of carers in the county.
Wheelchair-bound Heather Atkinson, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she could not bear the forced separation from Alby, her spouse of 27 years.
She has already spent more than two months in rest homes around Ipswich after her husband was forced to admit he could no longer look after his wife at their cottage in Nacton.
Mr Atkinson, 62, a former painter and decorator, of Felixstowe Road, has chronic back problems and has had intensive surgery to remove tumours from his aorta and liver.
He can no longer help his wife get up in the morning and wash and dry herself – but she cannot face returning to a home and cannot understand why care is not available.
Mrs Atkinson said: "I can't face going back to a home, I was so miserable. I was in two different old people's homes and a home for very disabled young people who couldn't really speak.
"I missed Alby desperately, but I had to go in to preserve his sanity. He's not getting any younger, he can't go on doing all these things for me.
"I used to have two girls who came in each week. Now they say that because of where I live, I can't get any care. I like it here looking at the trees and the birds. The retirement homes were surrounded by concrete. It felt like being in prison."
Her husband added: "I don't want her to go back in a home. I saw how unhappy she was. I want us to live together."
A friend is currently helping Mrs Atkinson in the mornings, but it is not a permanent arrangement. She would be willing to pay her contribution towards a carer, bur she cannot afford private rates.
Jack Thain, chairman of the Suffolk Pensioners' Association, said: "It is not a very nice situation and I feel deeply sorry for them.
"They should be together, that's emphatic. If it comes to the point where it is impossible to keep them together, she should not been placed too far away. I will be asking some questions about this."
He added: "I know there are a lack of carers in certain areas and we are looking into this situation. Lots of people rely on this service and it is very worrying if they are missing out."
John Gummer, the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said he would taking up the case of Mrs Atkinson's care.
"This is a very real problem throughout my constituency and throughout the whole of Suffolk. There is a lack of home carers – and one of the problems is many of those who do this job, and do it well, find that the money the council is prepared to pay is not sufficient to cover their expenses.
"I have had a particular case this last fortnight where a home carer has been driven by very low pay to go for another job to make ends meet."
He added: "This is a very sad state of affairs and is particularly true in parts of my constituency. It is particularly a problem in the more rural areas.
"The council has a responsibility to enable people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible and if people are not helped to stay in their own homes and forced into residential accommodation, that is immensely more expensive."
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said there was a shortage of carers in some parts of the county and it was often difficult to recruit care staff in more rural areas.
He added an emergency response team would provide a short-term solution to Mrs Atkinson's situation.
"We are sorry for the delay in being able to offer care to Mrs Atkinson, but hope we will now be able to resolve the situation with her," said the spokesman.
"We have been working to find suitable care in this area now for some
time and we are hopeful that a carer for the area can be found from some
recent job applications."
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