Dementia care plight


The proposed closure of Slievemore Nursing Unit (N.U.) in Derry, has brought the plight of the elderly, and not so elderly dementia sufferers into the public domain and so gives an opportunity for people to take a closer look at the implications of current government policy as administered by our local [health] Trusts in Northern Ireland.

Slievemore N.U. has been operational for many years for the purpose of treating dementia sufferers with challenging behaviour. Stays there were supposed to be short term but the Trust allowed a situation to develop whereby people lived and eventually died there.

The standard of care was high with patients being looked after by qualified nurses and well trained carers all under the auspices of the Health Service.

Since the Conservative Party came to power and David Cameron and George Osborne came up with the slogan, “We are all in this together”, the frail dementia sufferers also came under attack. Slievemore N.U. must go to save money for our local Trust.

The pretext for closing does need a closer look; a RQIA inspection came up with the convenient news that the building is no longer suitable for the model of care being administered there.

The building was bound to fail as it had not had any money spent on maintenance in years. The staff even had to look after the garden themselves. The bedrooms and bathrooms had served the patients and staff well for 30 years.

The families of remaining residents are extremely fearful as we are all aware that being moved from a familiar environment is very distressing to a dementia sufferer. Worst of all we are being forced to move them to private care, thus piling a financial burden on top of the agony of having watched our loved ones die slowly before our eyes.

Are readers aware of the exorbitant fees charged by entrepreneurs in the private sector? These charges have to be paid regardless of the wills of patients and their families.

Officers of the Trust have the power to go through your financial affairs and claim these fees even if this creates financial hardship for partners and families. A person is allowed to own £14,250 so any assets you have will go down to this figure if you live long enough.

Has it come as a surprise to learn that even though you paid your tax and National Insurance and have worked all your life you cannot be secure in the knowledge that you will be looked after if you are unfortunate enough to get dementia?

Many people are unaware that the NHS is not free for all at the point of delivery as the founders intended. Of course it will be argued that private care homes also cater for elderly people with mobility problems etc, but it is a fact that most residents suffer from dementia.

The British Government’s latest announcement does not even solve this problem as the £75,000 ceiling only includes nursing care and at present that is valued at £100 per week so I calculate that at that rate you would be paying for 15 years! Not many people live that long in care. Patients would still have to pay “hotel expenses”, ie food, heat and light etc.

In my own case my husband has been in Slievemore N.U. For three years and is presently completely immobile, has no communication skills and needs total nursing care.

I am grateful to all the staff in Slievemore for the high level of care given to him and I am very reluctant to move him out of the Health Service when he is so advanced in the disease. I doubt that this level of care will be available in the private sector as I hear that staffing ratios do not match up to those in Slievemore.

I call on all readers to put pressure on politicians of every hue so that they might come up with a solution to this burning issue which could be around the corner for any family.

Dementia is a condition which does not choose its targets – it strikes randomly and with devastating effect.



Jane Dunton (Mrs),


Co. Derry.