Northern Irish NHS cash crisis has driven old to despair

11 Oct 01
Elderly people in Northern Ireland are in despair at the loss of home help services as the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety tries to cope with a £120m deficit, claims Unison, the public service union.

12 October 2001

The union says the financial crisis is causing health boards in the province to withdraw support services to the elderly.

Patricia McKeown, Unison's deputy secretary for Northern Ireland, said that she had received reports of some elderly people committing suicide after they had been told they would have to move into residential care. 'There has been a radical reduction in personal care services for the over-75s,' she said.

Dominic Burke, the Association of Directors of Social Services representative in Northern Ireland, agreed there was a problem. 'The current financial position is imposing exceptional constraints and there is a very real need for close management and monitoring to ensure that those with the greatest need get the services they require,' he said.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, the elderly still have to meet the costs, where they can afford it, of nursing care. While there is pressure on the health department to meet those costs, Burke says it does not have the resources to do so.

'We have to ensure that we don't lose existing services on the ground, which is why it looks as if we won't be moving to free nursing care in Northern Ireland,' he said.

The NHS Confederation in Northern Ireland said it, too, was aware of serious problems in providing care for the elderly because of budget shortfalls.

It said that trusts in the province did not have sufficient accommodation to meet the need, a situation made worse by the recent closure of privately-run nursing homes.

The department of health said: 'The reality is that the department does not have the funding it needs to meet all the demands faced by the NHS. Some important developments, such as the introduction of free nursing care for the elderly, will have to be deferred.

'Some commitments may not be met. No final decisions have been taken and every effort will be made to protect existing services.'


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