The rights of the elderly to be examined for new report
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission today launches an investigation into the province's 256 nursing homes and it wants your help, says Monica McWilliams
Today the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launches a dedicated freephone line for members of the public to tell the commission about their experiences of nursing care in Northern Ireland.
The phone-line will run for two weeks and during that period, it will be open from Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm.
The purpose of this line is to gather evidence for an investigation into the human rights of older people in nursing care.
In light of today's ageing population, the commission has been exploring the vulnerabilities and problems that older people face - and the responsibilities of Government to this group of people.
Having considered all the issues carefully, the commission decided that an investigation into nursing homes would be appropriate.
There are currently 256 nursing homes in Northern Ireland and 241 residential homes.
The commission decided on nursing homes because, unlike residents in residential homes, those in nursing homes require 24-hour medical attention.
The balance to be struck between ensuring nursing home residents' often complex medical needs are met, while also providing a home rather than hospital environment, is therefore particularly challenging.
It is for these reasons that the investigation is focusing on nursing home care rather than residential care.
It is hoped that the investigation will uncover the extent to which those medical needs are met along with the rights and entitlements residents have - like any other member of the population living in their private residence.
The issues facing residents and their loved-ones are vast and varied: from getting a place in a nursing home to paying for it, as well as the problems many report about getting an appropriate level of care at home.
Many of these issues could warrant an investigation in itself.
After extensive scoping with specialists, experts and voluntary groups, the commission is concentrating on what happens once someone is placed in the nursing home and their day-to-day care there.
We are interested, particularly, in the extent to which a resident's dignity is respected from throughout the day and night.
We also wish to gather information on the use of sedation in nursing homes, the way in which medication is reviewed and issues around nutrition.
Given that up to half of all nursing home residents have dementia, we are particularly interested in hearing about their experiences.
As part of this investigation, the commission is currently carrying out fieldwork in four nursing homes across Northern Ireland. Investigators are speaking to staff, family members and residents.
The investigators are examining policies and guidelines and will also look at medical notes as part of this process.
This, however, is a small sample and that is why we are using this phone line to increase the amount of information we can receive.
Along with residents, we want to hear from anyone with an interest in their care - whether it be family members, friends or nursing home staff.
It is not the purpose of our investigation to single out any organisation or individual.
Rather the aim is to uncover the systemic issues across nursing home establishments, the common problems and the common solutions.
For that reason, no individual or home will be identified in the final report.
The report will be published at the end of the year with a series of recommendations on how to improve the lives of people in nursing care.
You can contact the commission about your experiences of nursing care in Northern Ireland by phoning freephone number 0800 0286066. Lines are open Monday-to-Friday from 10am-3pm from today until Friday, February 26.
Professor Monica McWilliams is chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission