Millions of people are leaving their long-term health and welfare decisions to chance, leading to a warning of a looming ‘incapacity crisis’ from a specialist solicitors group and leading think tank.
A joint research from Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE)and independent think tank Centre for Future Studies (CFS) has found that an astonishing 97% of the public leave important healthcare and welfare decisions to ‘chance’. The report warns that, by 2025, as many as 13 million people will be at risk of mental incapacity and unprepared for the consequences.
Four in five (79%) have not discussed with family members their care wishes or end-of-life medical wishes, despite 70% saying they’d like a family member to make the decision for them.
SFE is urging people to ensure they have a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place for the eventuality of loss of mental capacity. Not doing so can lead to issues over pensions, financial decision-making and health and welfare decisions.
The majority of people (65%) incorrectly believe their next-of-kin can simply decide for them when they are no longer able to. However, if a registered LPA is not in place, this is not the case.
Currently there are 928,000 Health and Welfare LPAs registered in England and Wales, compared to 12.8 million people over the age of 65 who should have one in place. SFE believes on current trends this disparity will only increase.
Lakshmi Turner, chief executive of SFE, comments: “Most of us do not like thinking about, let alone talking about, death, disability or disease, despite the fact that it touches all our lives – but it is essential that we do so.
“While it’s great that more and more of us are putting wills in place and establishing plans for finances and assets, far too few of us are planning ahead for our health and care needs and wishes, leaving this to chance.
“It’s time to set the record straight. Planning ahead by talking to family or friends shouldn’t be seen as doom and gloom, it’s about having a positive conversation about welfare, empowering your loved ones and making the decision-making process easier for everyone.”
Jeremy Hughes CBE, chief executive of Alzheimer's Society, adds: “People with dementia have the right to make choices about their care, just like anyone else. Making someone they trust their attorney for health and welfare is one of the ways people can do this. Health and welfare LPAs provide reassurance to them and the act of creating one can start useful conversations about the future with family and friends.”
Individuals and families must ‘act now’
Professor Ilora, the Baroness Finlay, adds: “With decades of experience working and campaigning around palliative medicine, the low numbers of health and welfare lasting power of attorneys is of concern.
“When a person loses capacity to take decisions, it is sad to see families and professionals struggling to try to determine what a person would have wanted. Delays and distress can be avoided by appointing someone to speak for you when you can no longer speak up for yourself.
“Discussing medical and care wishes ahead of time ensures that care can respect an individual’s wishes, with the respect they deserve – even when it comes to fulfilling wishes after death, such as organ donation.
“It’s important to have an open discussion about future illnesses and possible incapacity. I urge the millions of people who haven’t given loved ones the opportunity to listen, to act now.”