Belfast Telegraph

Third of older people 'wouldn't feel safe in Northern Ireland hospital'

By Victoria O'Hara

A damning report has revealed 37% of older people in Northern Ireland would not feel safe in an NHS hospital, leading to calls from a charity for urgent action.

The poll by the Northern Ireland Pensioners' Parliament shows a catalogue of fears that elderly people are concerned about including prescription charges and a mistrust over the transparency of health service decisions.

Age Sector Platform (ASP), the charity responsible for the Pensioners Parliament, says the report shows health provision declining despite ambitious plans for reform.

The poll of 700 people also revealed 76% of pensioners don't believe time allocated for domiciliary care is adequate, and nine out of 10 (89%) think waiting times for non-emergency treatment and care are getting longer.

When it comes to GP appointments, 77% think it's harder to get one compared to five years ago.

They also said if forced to pay prescription charges they would cut back on other essentials or pick and choose between prescriptions.

More than three-quarters (78%) of older people were satisfied with their last visit as a patient to their doctor's surgery.

Robert Hasson from ASP said the research was a "damning assessment" of the current state of our health and social care service.

"Worryingly, the majority of older people do not believe decisions made in relation to health and social care are open and transparent," he said.

"Premature decisions made in relation to statutory residential care homes and meals on wheels services have certainly added to this mistrust.

"It's clear the only way trust can be earned back is through genuine and meaningful consultation with patients and honest communication with the public.

"Recently there have been proposals to reintroduce prescription charges in Northern Ireland.

"If forced to pay they would cut back on other essentials or pick and choose between prescriptions."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "HSC Trusts know that older people can be especially vulnerable and they have measures in place to address this.

"The Health and Social Care Board is continuing to work with trusts to ensure that the best possible waiting time outcomes are delivered.

"Attending an emergency department can be daunting, and it is essential that patients have confidence that they will get safe and appropriate care.

"The HSC aims to provide care for all patients irrespective of their age, and all hospital patients should be treated in a timely way and with dignity and respect."

It comes on the same day a separate poll - published by the Royal College of General Practioners - showed that nearly three-quarters (72.5%) of adults in Northern Ireland believe that GP waiting times are now a national crisis.

The survey shows only one in 10 questioned was able to book an appointment with their GP within two days, and only one in five (20.3%) was able to get one within the same week.

‘No priority is given to dying people’

Margaret Galloway (71) from north Belfast says:

Recently I needed to access my out-of-hours GP service to get stronger pain relief for my husband after he was released from hospital to die at home.

On Easter Monday we waited almost five hours before a doctor was able to come out to the house. 

It seems that no priority is given to people who are dying and who are in a great deal of pain.

I was then told we should hurry to a pharmacy in south Belfast, as it was due to close in the next half-an-hour, but upon arriving it was already closed. 

Apparently the instructions given had been based on the previous day’s rota instead of that day’s; and the pharmacy in question hadn’t opened at all that day.

This was totally unacceptable, considering the circumstances. As an older person caring for another older person, I don’t want to see this happen again. Luckily, I had the help of my brother and stepdaughter, but without them I wouldn’t have been able to manage. 

Despite my recent experience with the out-of-hours service, I have no problems with my local GP surgery. I have received excellent service and care.

Over the last year I have been concerned to read about the possibility of prescription charges being re-introduced. I feel strongly that older people in Northern Ireland should not have to pay for their medication. I take 21 tablets every day for a range of conditions, and I would worry about the impact prescription charges may have.

Belfast Telegraph


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