WHEN Martine Evans discovered she and husband David were expecting triplets she was a happy, healthy bride who had just moved to her dream home in the country.
But six months after giving birth to three boys Martine, 37, was so crippled with arthritis she couldn’t get out of bed, wash or even go to the loo by herself.
David was forced to become her carer, getting up at all hours of the night to turn her over, give her painkillers or carry her to the loo – as well as caring for their toddler triplets.
The mobile mechanic is forced to work close to their Somerset home – so he can drop everything if Martine needs the toilet.
The couple’s plight is highlighted in Panorama: Crisis in Care, airing tonight on BBC1, which follows the adult social care policy of cash-strapped Somerset County Council as they face stringent Government cuts.
The government has cut the money given to councils by two thirds and a recent report said councils’ spending on social care is now £700million below 2010 levels in real terms.
For Martine, that meant a drop in the care she received, with David picking up the slack.
“David is absolutely exhausted which is terrible,” Martine tells the show.
“He doesn’t complain, he just carries on. He’s amazing. I’m the luckiest woman in the world.”
‘I down tools and dash home when she wants the loo’
Martine was just two when she was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which affects 15,000 children in the UK.
The cause of the condition, which leads to painful inflamed joints is unknown and many children grow out of it but Martine suffered a flare up after the birth of the triplets which bedbound, with unbearable pain in every joint and a snapped tendon.
Every morning David gets up, washes, dresses and feeds the three boys before making Martine breakfast, helping her wash and taking her to the bathroom.
When the programme was filmed, last summer, Martine was facing 18 operations and needed round the clock care.
While the council were paying for a nanny for the triplets, so that David could work, the care visits Martine initially received were cut because of funding issues and David was forced to become self-employed so he could be close to home.
“I need to be home a lot to look after Martine and the boys, and a lot of companies just don’t stand for it,” he says.
“Every two hours I have to go back to check she’s fine unless she calls for an emergency.
“She calls me because she’s desperate to go to the toilet. I have to chuck all the tools in the van, rush home for her then rush back and put two bolts in to finish a job.”
‘Waking up five or six times an hour’
David has to physically lift Martine on and off the bed, each time she wants to sit in a chair, and during the night, he is at her beck and call at least once an hour.
“Drinks, painkillers, toilet, turning to make her comfortable,” he says. “I could do that four or five times an hour in one night.
“I barely sleep all night then I’m constantly tired. You keep going for the people you love.”
David, who was aware of Martine’s condition from day one, adds: “I knew there would be care needed from me at some point, and then for the rest of her life, but I didn’t expect it so soon.”
In a poignant moment, Martine shows the boys their wedding photo, commenting “That’s when I looked like me. I was mobile and not on loads of drugs.”
Martine is also seen reading a bedtime story to the triplets – one of the few things she can still do for them.
“The worst thing is when they ask to stay downstairs to sleep,” she says. “You want to do everything for them, but I can’t do anything.”
The devoted mum says she’s says wracked with guilt over the effect her illness has on David.
“I can’t imagine being like this forever,” she says. “It’s such a massive fear of mine. It’s like being trapped in your own body. I’m no good to anyone at the moment – I’m just the problem.
“David is falling asleep on his feet. I feel so guilty that I’m causing him this much sleep deprivation. We should be a team but I’m the weak link all the time.”
However, with the council facing bankruptcy, in August 2018, social workers struggle to secure the funding the couple need to keep Martine cared for at home – which far exceeds the cost of residential home.
She was initially reluctant to ask for more care because “I didn’t want to take care away from other people. But we needed it for David. He was so tired. I just couldn’t watch that anymore.”
Initially given a special bed, which allows Martine to sit up or raise her legs, they began to receive a visit from a carer four times a day which David claims was a “quarter” of their needs.
But with the council facing a £4m hole in their social care budget, they were reluctant to meet the bill for the £1000 a week package which would give David respite at night.
Eventually, however, they conceded – granting the couple a night carer twice a week.
“Our social worker fought tooth and nail for that,” says Martine. “Everybody wants to help but they are constantly hamstrung by the budget.”
How much do carers save the UK economy?
It’s estimated that one in eight people (6.5million) people in the UK are carers for loved ones and over 1 million care for more than one person.
Over 1.3 million of those provide over 50 hours a week of care.
Carers who look after a loved one for more than 35 hours a week can receive a weekly allowance of up to £66.15.
It’s estimated that carers save the UK economy £132billion a year – an average of £19,336 per person.
‘I want to take my own life to give her peace’
It’s not just young mums such as Martine who are affected by the crisis in social care.
The programme also features dementia sufferer Barbara Grey, whose daughter Rachel is her full-time carer, as they face the closure of a day centre that gives much needed respite.
And Barbara Harvey, whose partner Michael has encephalitis and dementia, reveals her own health has suffered since she began to care for him 124 hours a week as the council care budget of £470 only covers 44 hours.
“It is draining, it’s deeply tiring, but I care for him deeply,” she says. “I love him unconditionally. It’s exhausting but tomorrow is another day and we have to get through it.”
She reveals the couple first met when they were 17, but she was engaged to his friend.
“He held in his heart how he felt about me,” she says. “Sadly I lost my husband and I was just getting myself back to an even keel and Michael phoned me, declared his love over the phone and said, ‘Can I come to live with you?’ He said he’s always secretly loved me. I was quite taken aback.”
Sadly, Michael confesses he has considered suicide to ease the burden on Barbara.
“To get out of her life I thought I’d take my life,” he says. “I thought that’s the best thing to do, to get myself out of her life and give her peace.”
With no extra funding from central government and savings of £2million a month to find, the council has tough decisions to make and social care is just one area that suffers.
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But Stephen Chandler Director of Adult Social Services at Somerset, says he is facing the worst crisis of his professional life.
“This last year has been the toughest of my professional career because I see ever more people who we’re not providing with the level and type of support they want and need.
“We are in a really difficult position. It’s on the verge of impossible.”
Panorama: Crisis in Care airs on BBC1 at 9pm tonight