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Belfast Trust does a U-turn on home help cuts for 550 elderly people

By Victoria O'Hara

Home help services for hundreds of elderly people in Belfast have been given a reprieve after people were told a week before Christmas that they would stop because of financial pressures.

Letters were sent to around 550 pensioners from the Belfast Trust last week informing them that their laundry, shopping and cleaning help would stop on January 5.

Last night the Belfast Trust reversed the decision to cut the services.

A statement said: "Belfast Trust recently wrote to a number of people who are in receipt of a domiciliary care package to advise them that from January 2015 we would temporarily cease some elements of this care.

"This was a decision we took with great reluctance and it was based solely on our need to live within the resources available to us in the current financial year.

"Since the announcement was made there has been many representations made to Belfast Trust from individuals, families and others, all concerned about our decision.

"As a result, we have decided not to proceed with these changes at this time.

"We regret any distress or anxiety we may have caused.

"We will contact all those who have been advised of the reduction to their care packages, and assure them these changes will not come into effect from January 2015 as indicated."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds welcomed the U-turn.

Mr Dodds said: "Those in the Belfast Trust who made this ridiculous decision should reflect on the situation and learn lessons from this ham-fisted attempt to save money. A number of my constituents were affected.

"I contacted the Health Minister this morning, who was already demanding answers from the trust.

"I understand health trusts are under pressure to break even, but this was clearly the wrong way to go about it.

"Even if the decision saved money in the short-term, it would almost certainly have cost money in the long-term.

"The way in which the Belfast Trust was acting was certainly legally suspect and wide open for a challenge."

The original letter from Mary Heaney, the co-director of Older People and Sensory Disability Services, apologised for any "anxiety and inconvienence the changes caused".

The trust said health services faced "tremendous financial difficulties" and the move was temporary.

The estimated savings the Belfast Trust would have made by introducing the service cuts was £177,000. Relatives of elderly people affected voiced their "disgust" and the outcry has led the trust to change its mind.

Story so far

Letters were sent up to 550 pensioners on December 17 from the Belfast Trust informing them of changes to home help services. The letter said that their laundry, shopping and cleaning help will stop on January 5. It provides around 46,000 home care hours per week to 5,139 people. The trust says health services face "tremendous financial difficulties" and the move was temporary.

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