Northern Ireland Assembly
I support the topic for debate that has been proposed by Mr Flanagan. It is very appropriate. I support it primarily because a relative of my wife died in Fermanagh last October, and I saw at first hand the level of care that home helps can provide. The home help service has been cut and decimated too much. Very often, it has been one of the Cinderella parts of the social care system. I feel that home help services always get cut first when social care and community care package cuts are brought in. There are many families that greatly depend on home help, but if the carer who comes into a house has only 15 or 20 minutes allocated, it is virtually impossible for that carer to provide the level of care that they want to.
In large towns, agencies can provide a bank of care workers, and very often they manage the system quite well. However, out in scattered rural areas, people depend on individual members of the community who provide a home-help service. I know a lady who looks after five different people in the Glenelly valley. She told me that trying to look after five people every morning and afternoon is a nightmare. Were she not so generous with her own time, she would not be able to cope. She gives more than the 20 minutes allocated to each person. The carer, and her interest for the patient, is being exploited. That is something that the Minister and the Department should examine.
In some cases, families realise that the home-help service is not adequate. Very often a social worker will come and assess the case and has to recommend that the person is put into residential care. That is largely because the home-help service that the family gets is not for long enough, or is not sufficiently sustainable, so that the family and the social worker must decide that the person has to go into residential care. That is often a missed opportunity, and it leads to greater costs. If there were a more adequate home-help service, it would not be an issue.
I support the debate and I thank the Minister for being here.