Details are important - what's the difference between a Postcode Area, District, Sector and Unit Postcode?

Age UK wants to inform us all that there are care deserts out there. Areas of the country in which the elderly and frail are - presumably - left to wander the streets, or fester uncared for in their crumbling homes, as a result of there not being any dedicated facilities to take care of those elderly. This could be true although we’d probably expect to have greater visibility of such a problem if it really is wandering the streets.

Which is where detail becomes important:

A study commissioned by Age UK found that large swathes of the country were “care deserts” lacking residential care or nursing homes.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said the research showed how “chaotic and broken” the market for care had become after years of underfunding. “If the awful situation set out in this report does not persuade our government to finally get a grip and take action, I don’t know what will,” Abrahams said.

The study, conducted by Incisive Health, an independent health consultancy firm, found that more than one in four postcode areas in England – 2,200 out of around 7,500 – had no residential care provision. Two-thirds (5,300) had no nursing homes, for people with more acute problems.

That could be distinctly worrying. A postcode area is a pretty big area. It’s a term of art - jargon if you prefer - and there are only 124 of them for the entire UK. Population isn’t equally distributed between them but assume they are, that’s a unit of half a million people.

A quarter of the half million population units have no old age care homes? Serious stuff indeed. Except we’re given some numbers there.

Please do note that we here are ignoring the difference between England and the UK. It does matter but doesn’t change our conclusion.

The BBC gives us the same story.

To given an idea of the scale of this, the research looked at how many local areas did not have any residential care or nursing home beds.

It found out of the 7,500 postcode districts in England, about 2,200 had no residential care beds and 4,600 had no nursing ones with the north-east, south-west and east of England particularly badly hit.

Postcode District? Ah, that’s a different thing. There are 3,000 and a bit of those for the UK. A unit of perhaps 20,000 people. Less worrying but we might think that still a problem.

Except, of course, we’ve been given that 7,500 number. Which means that they must be talking about Postcode Sectors. There are 12,000 odd for the UK, 7,500 for England sounds about right. This is a unit of about 5,000 people. The claim actually is that 25% of population areas containing 5,000 people or so don’t have a dedicated care home in that area. Is this a problem?

Hmm. Well. The population is 18% 65 years or older. So, we’re talking about 25% of areas that have a possible population in need of 1,000 people.

We can also examine another way. There are perhaps 500,000 people in care homes in the UK. A bit over the top to allow for those who perhaps should be but can’t because they live in one of these deserts and are thus wandering lonely. That’s 0.8% of the population. Tie that into our average population of a postcode sector and we’ve an actual likely population of 40 people requiring a care home in any one postcode sector.

Now we can actually evaluate this complaint. Which is that we’ve not got an equal geographic spread of something we provide to 40 people in our measurement unit of population. Or, even, given there are 22,000 care homes for the UK, they’re not equally spread over all of the 12,000 geographic units we’re using.

Is this actually a problem? No, obviously, it’s not, is it? It’s whingeing. Why, in urban areas Granny might actually end up living hundreds of yards away!

It’s not even true that every postcode sector in the country has a butcher or baker whose benevolence provides us with our dinner, nor even that most essential of civilisation, a pub. Quite why such a small unit of geography just must have an old age care home is unknown to anyone other than Age UK.