Budget blamed for home care delays
More than 100 people are awaiting home care in the Western Health Trust area.
The top civil servant in the Department of Health blamed the delay on budget pressure after the Northern Ireland Executive announced a budget in which healthcare is protected from spending cuts but social care is not.
Anne O`Reilly, chief executive of older people's charity Age NI, said: "There is plenty of evidence now that if you invest in supporting people to stay well and take responsibility for their own health, and support that, we could have more clever interventions at an earlier stage.
"We can support people to stay well in their community and in their own home. With more of that you would save money down the system."
Department of Health permanent secretary Andrew McCormick said 329 people were on the waiting list in October for home care. Since then the number has reduced to 154.He said 24 people were awaiting residential care and 75 awaiting places in nursing homes.
"That is more as a consequence of the wider budgetary context that the Western Trust is facing," he told Stormont`s Public Accounts Committee.
According to Ms O`Reilly, without the money to pay for social care, which was not ringfenced in the budget, people may have to stay longer in hospital. She added that it costs £300 a week to support some people at home and £1,200 a week to keep them in hospital.
A Western Trust spokeswoman said: "It is important to clarify that even of those 154 on the waiting list, the majority would have part of their care in place but remain on the waiting list until the totality of their package is provided. In some cases clients may also be waiting in hospital for a care package to be put in place or are at home supported by their family.
"These services are a priority for the trust. The trust anticipates additional investment in the next financial year and is working closely with the health and social care board, which commissions our services, to agree how best to address the needs of those currently on the waiting list."
A spokesman for the UK Homecare Association of providers said trusts were coping with an ageing population and added that a debate was needed about how the needs of elderly people is funded. He added: "Clearly you have people with unmet need. It is probably straining their informal care - members of their family who are trying to help them at the minute. That has a significant impact on carers."