ANXIETY is growing over the possible loss of respite services for older people in the Dungannon area, after it was announced that at least half of state-run residential care homes are to close across Northern Ireland.
The closures are part of a proposed £70 million overhaul of the health service. The move would see around 28 of the current 56 facilities shut their doors within five years, with at least 750 places being lost as a consequence.
However, patients and carers are alarmed that the closures could mean there will not be enough respite places to meet needs in the local area.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Bronwyn McGahan has sought assurances from the Health Minister Edwin Poots that the closures will not lead to the axing of respite care services.
“I have written to the Health Minister Edwin Poots about the future of homes providing ‘respite’ care in the local area and I am concerned given the response that the department is moving more towards care in the community as opposed to maintaining these homes”, she said.
“While Care in the Community is a positive move in many cases it not a solution to every case.‘Respite’ care is designed to give carers a complete break from looking after a relative who may be seriously ill or suffer from a disability. Having the patient remain at home will not provide a proper break for the carers.
“Carers are the unsung heroes of our health service and we need to look after their welfare as they care for their loved ones as many suffer from physical or mental exhaustion. This is especially true of elderly parents looking after a sibling.”
The Sinn Fein representative called on the minister to maintain residential homes in the Tyrone area so that carers can get a complete break.
Minister Poots insisted the closure proposals were not motivated by cost but instead part of his wider Transforming Your Care (TYC) reform agenda aimed at changing how care is delivered, with more emphasis on enabling older people to remain at home in their later years.
He added that the trust will provide a range of ‘innovative alternatives’ for respite.
“I want to ensure that those changes are planned and managed so that they will bring optimum benefits to patients, service users, staff and the wider community. It is crucial that safe, suitable and better alternatives to residential care, such as supported living, self-directed support and more respite care, are in place for those who need it.
“In that context, and as outlined in its draft Population Plan, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust is reviewing its residential care provision with a view to developing alternative models of care, which will reduce reliance on its care homes for long term placements as well as for short break provision.
“Any consequential closures will be taken forward in a planned and phased way, with residents, families and local communities involved in the local consultation process.
“The trust has confirmed that closure of facilities will not reduce capacity to provide respite: indeed its aim is to provide a range of innovative alternatives for respite, and other forms of carer support, by integrating respite care into the local community and promoting independence, choice and control.”