Underspend anger as ‘everything is a fight’

Gwyneth and her brother Jeff.
Gwyneth and her brother Jeff.

A Limavady woman has spoken of her anger at recent revelations there has been underfunding over a number of years in learning disability services amounting to at least £8 million per year.

Gwyneth McQuiston spoke emotionally at a public meeting in the town last Thursday.

Everything Jeff has needed has been a fight. I am an able-minded person, and I’m ready to do this, but many people are not and many people have no one to fight for them

Gwyneth McQuiston

The meeting was organised by the Parents and Friends Association for Benbradagh Resource Centre to discuss recent under funding of some £8 million each year in learning disability services.

Gwyneth says her 56-year-old brother has limited verbal communication and has the mental capacity of a three to five year old. She says she has been unable to secure an MRI scan for Jeff to ascertain what exactly is wrong with him. Gwyneth says she has been fighting for her older brother for years. For example, when Jeff was in hospital when he broke his leg, she said it was a traumatic experience for him because staff were not equipped to deal with a learning disabled adult.

Jeff lives in Mullagh House, Limavady, which she says the family are extremely grateful for. However, due to his mobility deteriorating he is confined to a wheelchair and she is concerned he may be moved into a nursing home. If that happens, she says, Jeff will lose his day care at Benbradagh Resource Centre, which will rob him of the social interaction and stimulus he needs and enjoys.

“When I heard of the under funding I was appalled. Everything Jeff has needed has been a fight. I am an able-minded person, and I’m ready to do this, but many people are not and many people have no one to fight for them,” said Gwyneth. “I am hurt for my brother. To say I am frustrated is an understatement.”

The Western Learning Disability Action Group (WLDAG) has been campaigning on the issue. They say the effect of the under funding “has been to decimate adult learning disability services” across the Western Trust area.

“It has deprived generations of adults with learning disability of the opportunity to have a better life. It has left families trying to cope with the caring role with no hope of assistance and at a great cost to family life, health and income,” said a spokesperson. “It has limited the ability of Adult Learning Disability services to recruit appropriate numbers of social workers, community nurses and other professionals who could identify and assess needs. The pressures on frontline staff in trying to cope with unrealistic caseloads and maintain some services has taken its toll.”

SDLP MLA Gerry Mullan met with Western Trust officials on Friday, and said he “raised concerns this under spend may have contributed to the massive pressures we are now witnessing with many patients and families not getting the proper level of care and support that they need. He said he “stands full square behind these families who now need assurances from the Health Minister and the Trust that extra resources will be provided to enhance services and to provide the highest quality of care for all service users”.

A Western Health and Social Care Trust spokesperson said “an additional investment of £2.3 million has been received for this financial year, which will go some way to close this deficit. The Trust had agreed to work in partnership with families, carers and advocate groups to develop plans to address the funding gaps and to ensure they are involved in service planning and delivery going forward.”