November 22, 2011

IRELAND: Elderly face cost of 'broken' care system

BELFAST, Ireland / UTV News / November 21, 2011

Northern Ireland's social care system is "broken", and the region's ageing population face substantial future costs to fund it, a new report has found.

The study, commissioned by Independent Health and Care Providers (IHCP), calls for urgent reform of how older and vulnerable people are looked after.

It warns some elderly people in NI already face care home costs of over £500 per week - while many can't afford to put money away for future care because of the downturn.

Hugh Mills from IHCP says the current care system needs change.

"The existing system is under serious strain," he said.

"It is important that older and vulnerable people are afforded the dignity and choice which they deserve.

"The IHCP is working with government and stakeholders like Age NI to devise original and workable ways to modernise the social care system to cope with both the growth in the numbers of older people and the spiralling cost of social care."

The report adds that many assume free care - such as residential and nursing homes - is provided by the state, but says this isn't the case.

Authors PwC say provision of homes is falling behind demand.

"Around £440m of public funding was devoted to the social care system for older people in Northern Ireland in 2009/10, representing around 10% of the total DHSSPS spend of £4.4bn," said Dr Esmond Birnie from the advisors group.

"While demand is rising fast, the provision of care, both in terms of funding and care homes is falling behind.

"This situation cannot continue and, in a period of severe financial constraint, a comprehensive reform of social care delivery and funding is now appropriate."

Age NI have called on the Health Minister to make reform a priority.

"Social care in NI is broken and its fundamental reform must now be a priority," said Anne O'Reilly of the charity.

"The current system is no longer sustainable, and it's not capable of meeting the needs of today's generation of older people or indeed future generations.

"Looking to the future, social care must become the lynchpin in supporting older people to remain independent and out of hospital and the right system of social care could reap significant rewards for us all as we age."

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