Social care crisis was forewarned and it must now be addressed

The crisis in our social care sector has long been forewarned - with our ageing population, people are living longer and with that comes more complex needs.

By Mark Durkan
Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 11:17 am
Mark H. Durkan believes more investment is needed in social care in the short term  but has warned increased funding is nothing without transformation as well as effective workforce planning.
Mark H. Durkan believes more investment is needed in social care in the short term but has warned increased funding is nothing without transformation as well as effective workforce planning.

Nevertheless, the fact that 1600 people and their families are waiting on home care packages here is shameful.

Pre-pandemic it was evident that there weren’t enough carers to meet demand. Yet there are a number of factors at play here; funding, the fact demand outstrips supply, capacity issues and failure to implement a pay uplift. It is a crisis that we find ourselves in and we need to address long term issues.

Sadly, I hear stories on a regular basis from constituents and the difficulty securing a care package and the problems this is posing for service-users, their families and the providers themselves.

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Mark H. Durkan

Of course, more investment is needed in short term- however, increased funding is nothing without transformation as well as effective workforce planning. We need practical measures in the here and now instead of spouting the same tired rhetoric about lack of money.

NI has the highest health spend per capita across these islands- utilising that expenditure efficiently is crucial. In the context of social care crisis, what needs done or at least explored are step down facilities.

Rectory Field, for example, has previously been utilised for patients until they are well enough to make the transition home. Clearly we’ve reached a juncture whereby there are not enough people to provide care in care homes and we haven’t enough people to provide care in their own homes.

The change in family unit i.e. smaller families and fact that people choose to live and work abroad, means there isn’t enough support despite the best efforts of families to care for their loved ones.

The Trust must turn their sights towards reopening buildings like Foyleville which is currently lying empty- there isn’t a panacea to the social care crisis but I think small solutions such as implementing step-down facilities could make a big difference in alleviating pressures.

And although this crisis was forewarned, no one could have predicted what has happened over the past 19 months.

I in no way want to understate the severity of the domiciliary care crisis or the impact on so many families but it is important to emphasis the entire health care system is on the brink of collapse.

If we consider each service area within the health service as a spinning plate, we hear about a service area when a plate falls, smashes and makes a lot of noise.

One week it’s the GP pressures, another week it’s waiting lists and more recently the focus has been placed on the crisis in domiciliary care. The system would have all but collapsed by now, if not for the heroic efforts of the health staff that have kept it running for so long. Yet it’s been apparent for the best part of a decade that these plates are spinning out of control now and the system is now in chaos. Healthcare is crying out for a complete overhaul.

Successive Health Ministers and Executives have failed to get a handle on the issues unfolding within the health service - three years of political stasis only served to deepen problems and bring the health system to its knees.

Each Executive has been told what needs to be done; by Bengoa, Compton and countless expert reports- it’s high time they just did it.

The system is failing the most vulnerable. Action needs to be taken immediately to tackle staff pay in the first instance which goes hand in hand with addressing staffing levels - vacancies of which currently stands at 10 per cent.

We need to attach more value to jobs in social care; that involves improving pay, working conditions and progression opportunities. Staff are exhausted and morale is low, the service they provide is invaluable and we need to see that reflected in their pay packet.

Measures need to be taken to protect their mental health and wellbeing- yes the health service is at breaking point but so too is its staff. The impact this crisis is having on patients and their families cannot be quantified- we can’t become so desensitised to the pain and struggle which is the daily lived experience of so many people here, that we lose sight of the lives behind the numbers.

The health crisis is a crisis that affects everyone, it is the difference between a loved one accessing life-changing and live-saving care and not. Focus must be placed on the family struggling to provide adequate care for their elderly mother, the child waiting years to access an ASD statement and support they so desperately need at school or the brother forced to anxiously wait for urgent cancer surgery.

There are lives at stake every second the Executive fails to implement expert recommendations.

Leadership here can’t sit on its hands while the health service crumbles around them, they have a duty of care to every member of staff and every citizen here to provide fit for purpose healthcare.