Social care cost shock for elderly

Northern Ireland’s pensioners face a substantial bill to pay for a social care system that is broken and in need of urgent reform, according to a leading business consultancy.

The report, Social Care in Northern Ireland, was commissioned from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) by Independent Health and Care Providers (IHCP) and supported by Age NI.

It says that while a large proportion of the public assume that social care such as residential and nursing home accommodation is provided free by the state, in fact the costs can be substantial and many individuals face future bills they are not able or willing to pay.

Some elderly are already facing care home costs of over £500 per week and the current climate does not help people to save for such costs in the future, the report found.

It points to the recent Dilnot report into social care in England which recommends that the amount people should have to pay for personal social care should be capped at a lifetime £35- £50,000.

However, PwC warns that adopting this in Northern Ireland would cost the Executive an additional £80 million per annum.

Anne O’Reilly of Age NI said the report comes at an opportune time. “Social care in Northern Ireland is broken and its fundamental reform must now be a priority for the Minister for Health and the Executive,” she said.

“The current system is no longer sustainable, and it’s not capable of meeting the needs of today’s generation of older people or indeed future generations.

“Looking to the future, social care must become the lynchpin in supporting older people to remain independent and out of hospital and the right system of social care could reap significant rewards for us all as we age. The knowledge collated in this report must be used to underpin the on-going Health and Social Care Review.”

Dr Esmond Birnie, PwC Chief Economist in Northern Ireland, said the current system is under enormous strain:

“Around £440 million of public funding was devoted to the social care system for older people in Northern Ireland in 2009/10, representing around 10 per cent of the total DHSSPS spend of £4.4bn.

“And while demand is rising fast, the provision of care, both in terms of funding and care homes, is falling behind. This situation cannot continue and, in a period of severe financial constraint, a comprehensive reform of social care delivery and funding is now appropriate.”