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68, Hertfordshire

When Peter's wife, Kay, needed 24-hour care, he found a suitable nursing home but faced a battle with the hospital bureaucracy.

"Following a successful business career, I retired as the chairman of a substantial company.  I think I am a reasonably competent person. But this process was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Kay and I had been married for 48 years when she was diagnosed with brain cancer and told she was only likely to live for another 16 months.

After about ten months of treatment, she had a fall and broke her hip. She went into a different hospital, where after 10 days I was told, 'There is nothing more we can do.' She couldn’t walk at all by now and needed 24-hour care.

Choosing a care home

My aim was to make her as content and happy as I possibly could for the time she had left. I wanted to get Kay out of that busy and noisy hospital ward and into a bright, sunny, quiet room with lovely nurses and proper care. No one at the hospital would give me any advice on which homes I should go and see, and that was extremely frustrating.

I did eventually find a suitable room in a lovely home, so I went to the hospital and said, 'We’re ready to go.'

They said, 'We have to wait for the fast-track paperwork. If you take her away, and there were any medical issues, there might be a problem getting back in here.' It made me feel as if I could have an invalid on my hands with nowhere to go for help. That frightened me and I felt obliged to wait.

The value of a supportive care home manager

"If you think it is likely that at some stage you or a relative will need to live in a care home, look now. Start before the emotional baggage comes."

A week later, still waiting, I explained this to the home we had chosen, and the manager said, 'I will visit them tomorrow morning, speak to the consultant and review the notes. I will interview your wife and phone you and tell you what’s happening.' She did exactly that and my wife moved there two days later.  

She had been in hospital nearly five weeks for what should have been five days. Every day seemed like a week. It turned out that the paperwork was mainly all about assessing what contribution the NHS were going to make to my wife’s care costs. I had never asked about that and it was not an issue. She was likely to die very soon – this wasn’t some commitment that could last for years.

My advice

If you think it is likely that at some stage you or a relative will need to live in a care home, look now. Start before all the emotional baggage comes when someone you love is not well. Make it into a nice, interesting project. Don’t leave it until you actually need to do it, because that will make the process emotionally draining and really hard."

More information

Page last reviewed: June 2016
Next review due: June 2018