Anne Hailes: The Belfast hospital unit supporting older people towards a healthier and happier lifestyle

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Most older people need help to keep well and happy; these days they can be taken care of at a frailty unit, but it’s wise to remember to keep warm and take care when walking on the wet leaves
Most older people need help to keep well and happy; these days they can be taken care of at a frailty unit, but it’s wise to remember to keep warm and take care when walking on the wet leaves

I have good news. This will please everyone in the Belfast area as the health and social care trust has a service that isn't known by many and it's called the Frailty Unit – and it's important.

Remember the days when granny or grandad was left sitting in the corner not contributing, sleeping a lot of the time, forgetting the obvious and wasting away? 'Dotage' was the vision of old age years ago; it's different now, but only if you want to take advantage of help that's on offer.

The word 'frailty' is often used inaccurately. It doesn't mean a lack of competence or an inability to live a full and independent life. It actually describes someone's overall resilience and how this relates to their ability to recover following health problems.

Musgrave Park Hospital
Musgrave Park Hospital

The Frailty Unit is based in Musgrave Park Hospital where parking is easy, or you can be left off at the front door if necessary. There you will be met by a member of the team and welcomed in.

Sinead McDonald is interim service manager at Meadowlands, Musgrave Park and she explained the background of the unit and what it offers.

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"First and foremost you must be 75 and over, although those of 65-plus will be eligible when necessary," she explains.

"However, you must be referred by your doctor or by the emergency department of a hospital because you cannot self-refer. You must be able to present yourself at the hospital as there is no transport available to and from the unit."


It offers a more sensible and comfortable means of gaining help by keeping the older person away from the turmoil of accident and emergency departments, where they might have to wait for several hours, often on their own, knowing that their medication is waiting at home and becoming stressed with the fear of what's ahead.

This is something of a one-stop shop. You'll get an appointment within 48 hours. Your visit will usually take up to three hours, during which professionals will be available to talk to you, take tests and give advice and build confidence.

For instance, taking and analysing blood samples, X-rays, being seen by a physiotherapist who will check you over and give ideas on having adaptations at home to help with safe movement, and by a geriatrician who might discuss issues including depression, incontinence or memory loss. About 45 minutes with each, so no rushing through, and during this time a treatment plan will be worked out. You will be invited back a couple of weeks later, when the team will review your situation and will continue with a review until they are happy and you are discharged.

If you do indeed need to go to accident and emergency with some crisis you will of course be seen and treated. This service based at Musgrave Park is not for patients who are acutely unwell and need hospital treatment, rather it's for patients who are clinically well enough to be 'signposted' to the Frailty Unit.

Such units are available in other trusts and doctors should know about what's available in your area so ask for details. I've been talking about the unit at Musgrave Park Hospital, which is designed to relieve pressures on hospital emergency departments and make it a lot easier for the older person to gain fast access to a multi-disciplinary team.

One piece of advice I picked up when talking to Sinead is basic and easy: "Keep well hydrated, drink up to two litres a day, have a nutritious diet and make sure you keep walking."

And, speaking of the unit, she added: "This is designed to assist our older citizens to see the right person in the right place at the right time to ensure a healthier and happier lifestyle."


Using toothpaste is an unorthodox way of dealing with a carpet stain
Using toothpaste is an unorthodox way of dealing with a carpet stain

Anne, I've an idea to pass on.

I got a mark on my biscuit coloured carpet, it really annoyed me. Not a big mark, but deep. I tried to scrape it off with a razor – I don't recommend it – and tried soap and water, but that didn't work. Nor did a carpet cleaner.

I wondered if I disguise it in some way. I was in the bathroom and I was looking at the toothpaste. I took a little bit and rubbed it into the carpet and guess what – the mark didn't show any more.

Thought I'd pass it on,


You don't recommend a brand which makes me think of the red cosmetic toothpaste we used to make our gums rosy so, in contrast, our teeth gleamed white. I'm talking many years ago although it might still be on the market, I think it was called 'Gordon Moore', although I had a boyfriend of that name around about that time...

Thank you May, you brought back happy memories.