Watchdog's fear elderly will bear the brunt of cuts
The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland has expressed his "deep concern" that older people are "likely to be hit the hardest" by £70m in health cutbacks.
Eddie Lynch said the cost-saving proposals - which include reducing new domiciliary care packages and care home placements by two-thirds, and stopping the provision of community meals - will mean more older people being admitted to hospital, for longer.
He said: "Over half of the savings proposed by the trusts are likely to have a negative impact on older people.
"Whilst over 65s do tend to use more health and social care services than others, it seems disproportionate that they will bear the brunt of the cuts.
"The majority of the cuts affecting older people are to services within the community. These are services which many older people depend on to live as independently as possible, and I'm very concerned about the impact that this will have, both on the older people and on their families.
"Older people deserve to have the care that they have been assessed as needing, and when this care is not provided additional pressure falls on family carers, many of whom are older people themselves."
Mr Lynch described the proposed reduction of services enabling the elderly to be cared for in their own homes or in the community as "a false economy".
"Failing to adequately care for older people in the short-term increases the chances of their health deteriorating and requiring more costly intervention," he explained.
"The proposed reduction in domiciliary care and care home packages will result in more hospital admissions and longer stays, which can be avoided.
"Furthermore, the provision of community services is already under pressure and plans to cut locum and agency staff, who are relied on to address the pressure of nursing and care shortages in the workforce, is likely to create unsustainable pressure on the system."
He warned: "Whilst there is no doubt that the health service is under pressure, it comes to a point where services cannot be cut any further."