The DUP’s Diane Dodds described the figures as ‘shocking’.
They revealed that while the Belfast and Northern Trusts were by far the worst with 836 and 716 patients waiting a care package, the Southern Trust had 528 patients awaiting packages. The South Eastern had 450 and the Western 317.
Minster Robin Swann recognised the need for ‘immediate action’ and announced a £23m funding package for domiciliary care and care home staff.
Mrs Dodds described that funding as a ‘sticking plaster’. She said NI has a ‘crisis in domiciliary care’. “We need to see the Department’s long-term plan to turn this situation around.”
She has written to the Health Minister to ascertain how many of these people are waiting in step down facilities and hospitals and at what cost.
Mrs Dodds said: “Having no care package in place, means a lot of elderly patients are occupying a hospital bed despite being fit for discharge, or else they are in a step-down facility costing close to £1,000 per week.
“This backlog did not simply build up overnight and is a result of continued inaction to tackle the crisis in domiciliary care.
“We have been warning the Minister this inaction would have serious consequences. Regrettably we have been proven right, with ambulances queueing at Emergency Departments and huge pressure being placed on our hospital staff. Our care staff are already overworked and underpaid and the Minister need to get to grips with this situation urgently.
“The figures are staggering. If only one third of that total are in a step-down facility, that would be costing close to one million pounds per week. That could employ almost fifty carers for a year.
“These figures a cause of huge concern and show the Minster is currently presiding over a crisis in domiciliary care.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “As of 1 December, the number of hospital beds taken up by unfulfilled care packages is 65 for the whole of NI. Of these, within the Southern Trust area, there were 15 individuals in hospital awaiting a care package in order to be discharged. The larger number of 2,847 that is cited in the statement would relate to all outstanding whole or partial packages across NI, including those who had been temporarily discharged to a care home, or to their own home, awaiting a package to be fulfilled. The Minister agrees that this number is too high and he has been assured that the Health and Social Care trusts are endeavouring to meet the needs as required.
“Pressures on domiciliary care services continue as demand outstrips supply. The Health Minister has responded to the need for immediate action by recently announcing a support package of up to £23m for domiciliary care and the wider social care sector. This funding will enable employers to offer improved terms and conditions, training and career progression opportunities, and rates of pay which should assist in addressing some of the immediate issues. It is hoped that this will provide an incentive to those wanting to stay within the sector, and indeed attract new staff to the sector, with the aim of increasing capacity.
“A range of other actions have also been undertaken, and are in progress to address the current position. Continuous recruitment drives are ongoing across the sector to increase the number of workers and increase capacity. Whilst these have been successful in recruiting new workers, this has not been in the numbers required to address the increasing demand.
“Where domiciliary care packages are not available and a care home placement is accepted, the Department has advised Trusts to waive the usual care home placement fees until a suitable home care package has been developed. Trusts are continuing the messaging of encouraging a timely discharge process wherever possible through the use of care options such as care home placements, or informal support from family and friends.
“The Department also recently reviewed and re-issued the regional Direct Payments guidance, to simplify the process, make it less restrictive (i.e. allowing for the employment of family members where no other workers can be identified) and make the option more attractive to prospective users. The NI Social Care Council is being supported to launch a targeted publicity campaign, including in schools and colleges, to promote social care as a positive career choice and encourage young people and others to consider social care as a career.
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.