System of care for elderly ‘broken’

Social care for the elderly in Northern Ireland is “creaking at the seams” because not enough money has been devoted to it, campaigners said.

The system is broken and struggling to meet critical and severe needs, the chief executive of Age NI told a meeting in Belfast.

Anne O’Reilly said instances of dementia are expected to increase by 200% over the next 40 years, and added: “The reality for older people in Northern Ireland is that our current system of social care is broken.

“The narrow reach of a needs assessment often ignores the outcomes that older people want from the provision of care, such as transport, housing, personal identity, social and intimate relationships.

“The system is currently struggling to meet assessed critical and severe needs. Moderate and low-level assessed needs are not being prioritised or met.”

Recent research commissioned by Age NI shows the average annual cost of providing health and social services to an adult ranges from £1,000-£2,000 up to the age of 64 but rises sharply to a maximum of £12,000 for a woman aged over 85.

Ms O’Reilly added: “The lion’s share of resources and formal care provision is happening in residential and nursing facilities and we have yet to experience the full impact of public expenditure cuts yet to come.”

A report commissioned by the Department of Health recently said there is a 9% greater level of need in Northern Ireland compared with England.

First Minister Peter Robinson also attended the Caring for an Ageing Population seminar in Belfast, and said charities and the voluntary sector can deliver public services for up to 30% less.

“We have to ask the question, is Northern Ireland being left behind on the world stage with approximately 98% of the health and social care budget still being delivered by Health and Social Care Trusts,” the DUP leader said. “Two thirds of hospital beds here are occupied by those over the age of 65 and since acute beds are the most costly use of health resources, we need to invest more in intermediate interventions to prevent the need for hospital admissions.”