Northern Ireland news

Home care package delays lead to hospital bed blocking

Vulnerable elderly patients are among those who cannot be discharged from hospital because home care packages are not in place
Seanín Graham

TWO-MONTH delays in delivering home care packages for vulnerable patients waiting to be discharged from hospital is leading to bed blocking at a troubled health trust.

Up to 160 patients have been affected by the crisis at the Northern Trust, which is responsible for Antrim Area and Causeway hospitals. By contrast, there are only four patients enduring eight-week waits in the Southern trust.

The north's five health trusts are currently experiencing severe pressures in A&E departments, with officials issuing pleas that only the most urgent cases attend. An inability to discharge patients is among the factors leading to spiralling delays.

A&E scandals at the Northern organisation have led to several independent probes and scathing reports over the past five years.

Patsy McGlone, SDLP assembly member for Mid-Ulster, said he had been contacted by people whose loved ones had been affected by the care package crisis.

Information obtained through an assembly question shows a total of 229 care packages were delayed by eight weeks across the north's five health trusts - with a staggering 70 per cent of the total hitting the Northern area.

Mr McGlone met Northern health chiefs yesterday to address their concerns.

"I know of a 92-year-old woman who has been assessed fit to be discharged from hospital providing that her home package is in place. The money is there for it but it can't be approved because there's no staff to deliver it. As a result, the woman had to go into a nursing home, when she would do so much better in her own surroundings," he said.

"This issue has been going on for some time in the Northern area but seems to have escalated in the past two to three months. The differences in delays between the trusts is so stark that clearly something is going wrong in the Northern region.

"The whole point of the Transforming Your Care health reform programme is to concentrate care in the home. This is not happening which is having a knock-on impact leading to bed blocking and continuing problems in A&E."

When asked by the Irish News why the problem is so acute and what Northern trust officials were doing to tackle it, a spokesman said: "The Northern Trust is the largest community Trust in Northern Ireland and covers the greatest rural area.

"The trust performance waiting figures for domiciliary care includes service users waiting in community and hospital settings for the delivery of a domiciliary care package. It includes service users who have had a main component of their care package provided but may be waiting for additional assessed and approved increases.


"Demand for Domiciliary Care is rising at a rate that is above demographic growth, with increases of 13 per cent from 2012/13 to 2013/14 and 15 per cent in 2014/15.

"The Trust continues to recruit into its internal homecare service and is working in collaboration with independent sector providers to secure additional support for the sector overall. The issue lies in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of staff to meet the increased demand.

"The Trust has embarked on a structured programme of address this shortfall through identifying areas of higher demand and actions which may be required to address these."

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