Alderman Noel Williams, a Knockagh Alliance representative, said he has discussed concerns with staff of Lisgarel, at Gloucester Park, regarding what he described as a “surplus of available spaces” at the facility.
He added he is “seeking clarity by writing to the Northern Health and Social Care Trust regarding the apparent under- utilisation of residential care homes when acute hospitals are struggling for beds”.
In a statement, Ald Williams said: “They (staff) explained that the status of several residential homes within the Northern Trust were changed to ‘contingency’ in November.
“This means that only through ‘senior management approval’ can that and other homes accept individuals who require rehab facilities or assessment.
“Taking Lisgarel as an example, the home has the capacity for 38 residents, but is operating with only 11 individuals. Despite this, the home is fully staffed by care workers on contracted rotas.”
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) says that Lisgarel is registered to provide care for up to 40 residents. During an inspection in September 2021, there were 21 residents.
“Taking into consideration the high admission rates within our acute hospitals, it is extremely concerning that so many residential home spaces remain available and unfilled,” said Mr Williams.
“I am increasingly worried about how widespread this problem could be across Mid and East Antrim and beyond and have written to the Northern Trust to ascertain what, if anything, is being done to combat the issue.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said: “The profile of the patients we look after in the community is changing and many of our service users now require a higher level of support than we can provide in a residential home, with their needs being better met in a nursing home or community hospital.
“We will consider Mr Williams’ correspondence and respond in due course.”
Trust board members were told at a meeting in November that in anticipation of increased capacity at Antrim Hospital and Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, from December until March, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust has “block-booked” beds in the independent sector in a bid to improve flow and discharge rates from these acute hospitals.
Members also heard there have been “sustained pressures” since Easter and the Trust is anticipating “a very challenging winter”.
Currently, there are 43 statutory residential care homes in Northern Ireland.
In May, an extension to a Department of Health public consultation on Reform of Adult Social Care was announced. The public consultation was held in the context of “projected massive growth” in demand for adult social care.
Population projections for Northern Ireland until mid-2043 estimate a 56.2% increase in people aged 65 and over and a 106.4% increase in those aged 85 and over.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter