Carers are struggling to find support for their loved ones amid the “huge” staff shortages in adult care

“There are days when I wake up and I feel like I can’t do this one more day,” says Dorothy.

“Then I look at Melvin and force myself to get up because he needs to eat. He needs medicine and he needs bathing.”

Dorothy Cook, 65, and Melvin, 76, have been together for 48 years. Dorothy is raising her husband alone – after two years of struggling to find a care package that meets Melvin’s complex needs.

On the shortage of caregivers, Dorothy says: “I think it’s immeasurable, I think it’s enormous. I think it never went back to pre-COVID times.”

In fact, industry insiders point out that recruiting and retaining nurses has never been so difficult.

With an estimated 165,000 adult care job openings in EnglandThis week’s budget made it clear that the government’s focus remains on the NHS.

Meanwhile, Dorothy and countless others fight on.

Dorothy proudly tells me that her husband is a former electrical engineer who helped design the Concorde’s prototype nose.

She points to the built-in bay window seat I sit in while we talk – it was carefully crafted by Melvin, who loved carpentry and painting.

But the brain disorder ataxia robbed Melvin of the body he knew. His walking, balance, muscles, swallowing and speaking are all affected.

Melvin sits up in bed and Dorothy uses prompt cards to help him communicate.

At first it is difficult to understand what he is saying. But with patience and encouragement from Dorothy, Melvin slowly explains, “My legs don’t do what my mind tells them to.”

But the burden of responsibility that Melvin’s needs place on his wife does not escape him.

He speaks again – and after a second time it becomes clear that he is saying to Dorothy, “One day at a time.”

The words bring Dorothy to tears.

She wipes her eyes and replies, “I didn’t expect that. You know, part of grooming isn’t just about the physical challenge and the practical side. What people don’t realize is the emotional side.”

Dorothy explains how difficult it was finding caregivers to support Melvin’s complex needs.

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She says: “Different ones came in by turns. I ended up just showing them what to do because I couldn’t leave someone and just say they’re all yours so it’s broken.

“There aren’t the resources and the care agencies are really struggling.”

Dorothy makes Melvin’s meals; prepares and gives his medication; supports him to walk slowly with a frame and washes him and helps him in the bathroom.

She says, “From the outside, people are like, ‘Oh, they can do this. They’re doing very well. Dorothy does this with Melvin. It looks easy on her’. .

“Caring for someone 24/7 has taken a huge toll on my own mental and physical health over the past two years that I haven’t had a care package.

“I’m housebound by default because I don’t have caregivers. I can’t leave him alone.”

Wendy Brown, 73, understands the emotional toll caring for a loved one can take.

Wendy and her family tried to take care of their 97-year-old father-in-law, Arthur, as best they could. But in the end they couldn’t handle it.

“If I didn’t do something and he died, how could I live with myself,” she says through tears.

Wendy says she struggled for a long time to find caregivers. But she believes months without help have resulted in repeated medical emergencies for Arthur and three hospitalizations.

She says Arthur was sent home from the hospital with a catheter that neither he nor she knew how to empty.

“It’s the pulling out of the catheter and the infections and the damage he did that made him as bad as he is.”

Wendy recalls a conversation she supposedly had with the hospital staff during one of Arthur’s hospital stays.

“They said ‘He’s not really conscious and couldn’t talk to anyone’ and I went in one day and the doctor said they were preparing him for discharge.

“I said, what do you mean by dismissal? Where are you going to release him? You can’t send him home. How do you think he will cope with this?

“I was so angry that my daughter had to come and pick me up because I couldn’t drive the car. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. It didn’t matter what you said, they didn’t listen.”

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Latest figures from Skills For Care, an organization that monitors and estimates adult social care vacancies, suggest that 10.9% of social care jobs in England are vacant.

That’s 165,000 vacancies across the sector, including nursing jobs.

Last year, vacancy rates were the highest since records began a decade ago.

The lowest recruitment rates are in home care – that is, caregivers who work in people’s homes. There are more than 76,000 vacancies in home care.

2019 Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We will solve the crisis in social care once and for all.”

But activists say it wasn’t enough.

Professor Martin Green is Chairman of Care England, a charity representing independent providers of social care for adults.

He said: “I have to say I’m sick of hearing about the NHS and I’m sick of hearing from politicians who seem to think he’s sitting in a silo unconnected to every other part of the system is not least how you support people in communities well so they don’t get into a crisis and don’t need the NHS.

“The care sector has communicated to successive governments how to solve the problem and talked about needing a long-term approach to funding and the workforce.”

The government insists it is “supporting” social care, despite criticism that the sector was not mentioned in this week’s budget.

Last autumn the government pledged what it described as a “record-breaking” £7.5 billion in funding for social welfare over the next two years.

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