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No Time to Wait: Transforming Northern Ireland’s Social Care System

23rd November 2017

Duane Farrell, Age NI

Our social care system is broken! For a number of years now, Age NI has been highlighting the challenges our social care system faces, and lobbying to ensure that social care policy and legislation is brought into the 21st Century and, through this, that we can have a social care system which promotes the independence, dignity and choice of the those adults who require care and support.

Recent headlines only confirm what we know to be true. The workforce is in danger of collapsing because contracted rates do not reflect the real costs of care and people can’t survive on zero hour contracts and Living Wage, particularly in the challenging world of domiciliary care. The market place is collapsing with reports of care providers handing back clients wholesale to Health and Social Care Trusts because they can’t recruit staff to ensure quality care delivery. Services have been reduced as a result of social care being seen as ‘low hanging fruit’ when efficiency savings and budget cuts come through.

We need only look at the recent Savings Plans from Trusts to confirm this. Trusts will now only meet critical and substantial needs of people requiring care, meaning that your care and support needs must be at a high threshold before you can access service. Against a backdrop of an ageing population, it is clear that there is no silver bullet to address the myriad of issues.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Quality social care can be a great preventive tool. Recent evidence from the Partnerships for Older People Programme demonstrated that these projects lead to cost reductions in secondary, primary and social care:

  • For every £1 spent, hospitals save £1.20 in emergency beds
  • 47% reduction in overnight hospital stays
  • 29% reduction in A&E departments
  • 11% reductions in outpatient appointments.

We believe that reform of social care is strategically important and vital to enabling older people to live independently, with dignity and security, having choice and control over how they manage their lives.

The absence of a Minster for Health or an Executive must not halt the fundamental transformation of our social care system. Before the Executive collapsed, Minister Michelle O’Neill appointed an Expert Advisory Panel on Social Care. Their report, which outlined their thoughts after a six month programme of engagement with service users, providers and advocates, has sat unpublished since June. The process of transformation for social care starts with publishing that report, and engaging in a societal conversation on what we want our social care system to be.

Is social care about only keeping people safe, clean and fed, or do we have higher aspirations for it? The real benefit of social care happens when it is about keeping people active, engaged and focuses on maintaining independence and wellbeing. The system we want should also trigger another debate on what workforce we will require to deliver it, what terms and conditions that workforce should have and how we arrive at a fair contract price which enables the not for profit sector to continue to add value and impact through these services.

The absence of political leadership should not be a barrier to moving forward on the societal conversation we now need for us all as we age. The longer we wait to start that process, the more broken our system becomes.

Duane Farrell is Charity Director at Age NI.

He is participating in a special MAC QT event on Friday 1st December, Transforming health in a political vacuum. You can find out more about the event and book your place here.

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