Elderly care in Northern Ireland in crisis, Citizens’ Assembly told

Henrietta Magill, from south Belfast, with her volunteer befriender Paul Taylor. Volunteer Now are urging people to help out for 'Befriending Week'
Henrietta Magill, from south Belfast, with her volunteer befriender Paul Taylor. Volunteer Now are urging people to help out for 'Befriending Week'

Care for the elderly is in crisis in Northern Ireland and needs a radical overhaul, the first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ to be held in the Province has been told.

Age NI, a charity for older people, told the News Letter the shortage of qualified nursing staff and the difficulties in funding social care were problems that must be addressed.

The organisation addressed the Citizens Assembly over the weekend in Belfast.

The assembly has been put together to provide advice on important issues and is modelled on a similar system which operates in the Republic of Ireland.

Selected at random by a polling company to be representative of wider society, 77 members met at the Europa Hotel in Belfast to discuss social care for older people.

The assembly will meet again in November and is tasked with producing “realistic recommendations to bring the social care system into the 21st century, and future-proof it to cope with the needs of the next generations within the context of limited resources”.

Eithne Gilligan, head of policy at Age NI, said: “I don’t think it’s going too far to say that social care is the most challenging topic in Northern Ireland.

“It’s recognised that we do have a crisis. The system at the moment is really not able to respond to the needs of vulnerable older people, who need social care either in their own homes or in nursing or residential care.

“It’s under-funded at the moment, it is under-provided, and it comes under a lot of strain in all sorts of ways.”

The Age NI representative also pointed to the closure of certain care homes due to a shortage of nurses.

Last month, Drumclay Care Home in Enniskillen became the latest to announce its likely closure due to an inability to recruit qualified staff.

“They sometimes close as a nursing home and open as a residential home, but you don’t have places for an older person who requires nursing care,” Ms Gilligan said.

“You have had recently the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee reporting on the nursing shortage.”

Meanwhile, the organisation Volunteer Now is highligting the forthcoming ‘Befriending Week’ beginning on Thursday to urge people to help out.

Volunteer Now has been offering a ‘Befriending and Driving’ scheme for isolated older people in Belfast.

Lindsay Armstrong, community projects manager, Volunteer Now said: “A volunteer befriender or driver can be a life-changer to many people.”

To volunteer in Belfast, visit www.volunteernow.co.uk or telephone 02890 232020 .