Care Packages: NHSCT

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 2:45 pm ar 15 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP 2:45, 15 Ebrill 2024

1. Mr K Buchanan asked the Minister of Health for his assessment of the provision of care packages in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) following the appointment of three new providers. (AQO 264/22-27)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for his question. Four new providers have contracted with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust in the past while. Collectively, they have taken on 766 packages of care, totalling 6,659 hours. The Northern Trust continues to target the recruitment of home care staff across the trust's geographical area, with an additional focus on areas where a larger unmet domiciliary care need remains.

Demand for domiciliary care packages continues to outweigh the sector's capacity to take on the work. I recognise the important role of our independent sector home care providers and have approved funding, in advance of the 2024-25 Budget being confirmed, to address the employer's requirements in relation to the national living wage increase. I recently announced a £70 million support package for social care providers and hospices. I hope that that funding will help the independent sector organisations to deal with rising costs.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. My mother is a service user, and I see the work that those workers carry out day and daily. When will the four additional providers that he mentioned make a real impact in the Northern Trust area? The Northern Trust has one of the largest backlogs in Northern Ireland. Recently, a lady in her 100th year had to wait six months for a care package.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I intend that the £70 million will be rolled out as quickly as possible. I made the announcement in advance of a Budget being agreed because we have a high level of unmet need, especially across the Northern Trust because of not just the size but the rurality of the area that that trust covers. I hope that the additional money will help. The trust is reviewing how it commissions domiciliary care services to ensure a value-for-money approach and to proactively drive efficiencies to optimise its current capacity.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

Minister, I appreciate the update. I have done a lot of work with the trust. At the end of January, when one of the new providers was first announced, in south Derry, it was a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul because another provider had just left the area.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Question, Ms Sheerin?

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

I have just had a Teams meeting with a lady whose father has been in hospital for 11 months. He is ready for discharge, but he cannot get a care package because he has complex needs. The trust has basically said that the only option available is a placement —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I think we have got the gist.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

— in Rathmena House in Ballyclare, and they live in Bellaghy. Can you outline what support is available, particularly for those who need more than four visits a day, le do thoil?

[Translation: please?]

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for her point. If she writes to me about that specific case, I will get back to her and engage with the Northern Trust on it. She highlights the issue of additional complex needs. We made provision whereby people who have waited a long time, especially for a care package, can go into domiciliary care. Sometimes that meets a need; sometimes it does not. However, the Member can write to me about the individual case that she mentioned.

Photo of Nuala McAllister Nuala McAllister Alliance

The Minister will recognise that care packages also exist for those who are not adults, such as children with learning difficulties and those whose behaviour is extremely challenging for their parents. What is the Minister's Department doing for the families in the Northern Trust area who have waited almost four years for respite services?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

The Member raised the specific facility of Rainbow Lodge in the Northern Trust at the Health Committee. I have looked at the additional respite capacity in that facility but also across Northern Ireland, because the issue does not just affect the Northern Trust. Our supply of respite is constrained by the pressures that we see in cases, such as the one indicated by the Member who spoke previously, where complex additional needs consume quite a lot of our respite care.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

The announcement of additional funding that the Minister referred to was warmly welcomed in the sector. On sustained investment and clarity, can the Minister advise what his Department is going to do to increase capacity in the home care workforce?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for that point. As well as the additional £70 million that I announced, there have been two uplifts to the independent sector home care rate in the past few years. That has been done to recognise the complex work that that valuable workforce does and to entice more staff into the field. My officials have established the social care collaborative forum as an outcome of the review of adult social care. That forum is looking at many issues around home care, including maximising capacity and the home care workforce. It is working with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council on developing standardised enhanced training, recognised qualifications and promotional options for home care staff. I hope that the measures that I have referenced will grow the workforce and drive down some of the unmet need that we have across the Province.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, many who go without care packages have to stay in hospital, even when they are fit to go home. Does your Department keep statistics for how many or how long patients are kept in hospital when they are fit to go home but cannot access a care package in the Northern Trust?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

We do. That is something that I have asked departmental officials to look at, and they have been looking at it. A team in the Department has been established within the strategic planning and performance group, which looks at, manages and engages with trusts on delayed hospital discharges through a range of regionally agreed measures. However, I need to be realistic: stabilising and enhancing social care represents part of the answer to delayed discharges but requires sustained and significant additional funding. So, it is not just the wait for social care packages that is resulting in delayed discharges: there are other constraining factors at work. There is ongoing work in my Department to look at those and challenge trusts on whether they could be doing better.