Doctor warns Town Hall that pensioners are living in ‘solitary confinement’
GP Benjamin Bromilow tells inquiry that he has patients who never leave their homes
27 February, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Camden Council is holding an investigation into care for pensioners living in social housing
A GP has provided a heartbreaking portrait of life for elderly residents stuck in unsuitable council flats, warning some are living like prisoners locked up in solitary confinement.
Dr Benjamin Bromilow told a Town Hall inquiry he had patients who had only left their homes in medical emergencies because they lived on upper floors, while others appeared to be hoarding items just because they had no physical means to declutter. He was so worried about the safety of some pensioners, he contacted firefighters at West Hampstead fire station to assess their homes.
In a stark warning, Dr Bromilow said: “We do have patients that by virtue of being frail or even bed-bound, and on top-floor flats, who would simply not survive were a significant fire to break out in their accommodation. “Hoarding – sometimes just as a consequence of a practical inability to de-clutter due to mobility and access issues – exacerbates this risk.”
Meanwhile, a string of large new housing developments going up in West Hampstead did not seem to address the day-to-day issues facing people with reduced mobility, the GP warned.
Dr Bromilow, from the West Hampstead Medical Centre in Solent Road, is due to appear before a cross-party panel of councillors next week as a list of experts discuss how to help elderly tenants struggling to get by in social housing.
“Even a prisoner being kept in solitary confinement gets intermittent visits from a prison guard, and it is somewhat ironic that solitary confinement is used as a very rare form of punishment for prisoners, yet it is unfortunately standard for many pensioners,” he said in a statement provided beforehand.
“We know of a number of our patients where their accommodation is such that the existence of day centres, etc, is irrelevant as they are simply unable to leave their home. One of our patients is 86, and lives on the top floor of a three-storey building, only accessible by very narrow and winding stairs that precludes a stairlift. They have only left their house once in all the times I have been their GP – to be admitted to hospital as an emergency – and that was only possible by virtue of two ambulance crew manually carrying a 118kg man down three flights of stairs.”
His warning is not a lone voice and members of Age UK Camden, the Camden Carers Voice and Healthwatch Camden are also scheduled to speak. One estimate from campaigners suggests more than 3,000 pensioners feel they have become trapped in their own homes.
Mel Wright, from the Kilburn Older Voices Exchange, said: “The 60-plus population and with the ‘coming of ageing’ of the baby boomer generation, is set to explode demographically and the time is ripe to seek their input in what accommodation is preferable and possible. The growth of the private developments in West Hampstead is a good example of how this is not happening.”
Private renters will also be represented at the inquiry amid concerns that the choices for older or disabled residents are severely limited, and harming the chances of staying in their homes for as long as possible.
A council spokesman said: “We will always do all we can to ensure homes in Camden meet our residents’ needs and allow them to live life to the full. We can fit a range of adaptions including stairlifts and other mobility aids to allow people to stay in their own home, whether they are council tenants, live in the private rented sector or own their own homes, while we also have over 1,200 sheltered homes in Camden allowing people to live independently in a community.”
He added: “The new homes we’re building through our Community Investment Programme are to lifetime homes standard, which ensures that they are accessible and adaptable as people’s circumstances change, while 10 per cent of all new homes are designed to be accessible for residents who currently have mobility issues.”