Ulster’s Beleaguered Carers Face Waits Of Up To A Year For Respite

New figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph have exposed the extended waiting times endured by people caring for sick and disabled relatives in Northern Ireland. Some wait for more than a year before patients can be admitted into respite care.

Respite care offers a temporary break for those looking after disabled, sick or elderly relatives in their own homes. It can involve care in a specialist unit or a placement with another family.

However, figures published in Parliament reveal that as of December last year, 19 patients in Ulster had been waiting more than a year for respite care. 52 patients had been waiting between six and 12 months, while 34 had been waiting between three and six months. The figures were published by health minister Paul Goggins following a question from Ulster Unionist North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon.

Lady Sylvia’s husband, former RUC Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon, has suffered from Alzheimer’s since 2002. Helen Ferguson, director of Carers Northern Ireland said: “The Office for National Statistics shows us that without a break carers are twice as likely to have stress-related illnesses themselves. For families, getting the right break at the right time can make the difference between them being able to cope or not cope. Provision of breaks has to be one of the top priorities.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: “Health and Social Services Boards and Trusts are developing the range of respite services that they provide to include family-based as well as residential respite care in an attempt to provide more flexible arrangements which better suit the needs of families and carers.

“In 2007/08 the Government will invest an additional £11.5m in community care services designed to support vulnerable people to live independently. Respite care is an important and integral component of these services and the Department would expect to see continuing improvements in terms of access and quality.”

Charities estimate there are some six million carers in the UK. Lady Sylvia Hermon said: “Respite care is so essential for carers and loved ones alike that I’m calling on the Health Department to ensure these waiting lists are significantly reduced. When carers save the NHS millions of pounds every year, the very least the Department of Health can do in return is provide generous support for them and for those for whom they care.

“I’m horrified that these figures show waits of over a year for respite care in Northern Ireland. Such lengthy waits are wholly unacceptable and I shall be demanding their elimination.”