Northern Ireland Assembly
Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I missed how long I have to speak, but however long it was, I doubt that I will need it. I thank the Minister for coming. I know that he has a very busy schedule and that he has just finished an important debate on organ donation, so I am glad that he is here to listen.
The gaps in home healthcare provision in Fermanagh are a massive issue. The problem has been going on for many years, and, to be honest, I am heartbroken dealing with tales from distraught citizens who cannot access the most basic level of health and social care services, particularly in the most rural areas of Fermanagh.
There are clear gaps when one looks at where home help care is available and where there are problems. One of the main reasons behind that is the terms and conditions for those employed in the profession. Those employed as carers are passionate people; they are dedicated to what they do and are committed to those for whom they care. However, the poor rate of pay and the low or often non-existent rates of mileage payments make it very difficult for people to become a carer, particularly in rural areas where they have to cover a considerable number of bad roads to get to see someone who needs help. Those gaps in home help provision are seriously impacting on people and putting the quality of their lives at risk, particularly those who live in rural areas and who are very vulnerable and in their later years. We now have a situation in which the health budget is being cut significantly, in real terms, and that is putting massive stress on the health and social care budget.
I can quote one example of a lady in Garrison who had a fall recently and became paralysed. As a result, she needed 24-hour care and had to spend nine months in hospital. She would have much preferred to spend that time at home, and the medical practitioners in the hospital were happy to release her to be cared for in the community so that she could live at home with her husband. However, unfortunately, there was a complete lack of home help provision in Garrison at that time. Therefore, that poor lady had to spend nine months in hospital unnecessarily. It impacted not only on her quality of life but on the healthcare budget, because she had to stay in hospital at huge cost and for an unacceptable reason.
If the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety were to take an innovative look at the issue and provide proper home help provision in many rural areas, it would save itself huge sums of money. The problem is probably not confined to Fermanagh, but I am well aware of it in that area. However, the Minister and his officials will be in a better position to speak about it.
I introduced this adjournment debate to make sure that the Health Minister is aware of the issue. There are issues in Fermanagh, and probably in the wider Western Trust area, as a result of the recent tender award and subsequent legal challenge that is going on there. Due to that legal challenge, we are quite constrained in what we can talk about. However, there are issues with the Western Trust and its level of communication with agencies and with the independent and voluntary sector that provide home help services on its behalf.
People at the front line of delivering home help have voiced repeated concerns that the trust is creaming off the easiest or least problematic patients, who live in easier to access areas, and that it is leaving the more difficult, less profitable patients to the agencies and the community and voluntary sector. The result is that it is much more difficult for people who are doing the job voluntarily to continue doing it, and it is leaving those who are often in the most vulnerable position isolated.
I think I have outlined my concerns well enough at this stage. I am really here to listen to what the Minister has to say, to see whether he is aware of the issue, and whether he will take urgent action to address it as soon as possible, because these are people’s lives that we are dealing with. I feel that the issue can be addressed quite simply, and I know that there is ongoing rationalisation of home help provision contracts in the Western Trust. Therefore, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I thank him once again for coming here this evening. Go raibh maith agat.