Northern Ireland

Unpaid carers voice frustration after respite care in Dungannon cancelled at short notice

Woodlawn House in Dungannon provides respite care breaks for adults with learning disabilities.

UNPAID carers have spoken of their frustration after their respite care in Dungannon was cancelled due to a lack of space.

One carer of an adult with learning disabilities, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Irish News they normally use the Southern Trust operated Woodlawn House facility for around two weeks each year.

The eight-bed facility usually provides short breaks of around a week for those with a learning disability who are aged 18 and over.

While praising the dedicated service that staff provide, the carer said that on at least two occasions families have had their care slots cancelled at short notice if someone with more intense care needs is admitted.

“A group of carers is very angry at how we are being treated with regard to respite care,” she said.

Last week, she said this included a parent who had booked a holiday was told at short notice their respite care had been cancelled.

The affected families say their anger is reserved for the Southern Trust and they attach “absolutely no blame” to the staff at Woodlawn House or to individuals who need a greater level of supervision.

“God knows they have enough staff made up of managers and team leaders and not one of them can find a place for this young person,” she said.

“To add insult to injury this is the second time this has happened in recent years. Just as the Covid pandemic was drawing to a close we were looking forward to being able to resume respite but the trust took in a young person with mental health difficulties into the unit and there was no respite for almost a year.”

A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said: “Unfortunately, we are currently unable to facilitate Learning Disability short breaks in Woodlawn House Short Break unit in Dungannon.

“The resources in Woodlawn are temporarily being directed towards intensive individual support and unfortunately as a result, a number of short breaks planned for the second half of December have been postponed.”

They added: “Staff have been in contact with carers to update them on the situation and apologise for any distress caused.

“Our staff are working to find options that would allow us to resume the short breaks service at Woodlawn as quickly as possible. The aim is to reopen short breaks in January 2024 or sooner if possible.

“All carers are encouraged to contact their keyworker to explore other flexible short break options to further support them in their caring role during this time.”

Craig Harrison is the Public Affairs Manager with Carers NI.

“The situation is another symptom of a health system starved of the resources, staffing and reform it needs to meet demand, with unpaid carers always among the first to pay the price,” he told the Irish News.

“Access to short breaks and respite are lifelines for unpaid carers who are running themselves into the ground to support their loved ones, and after waiting weeks or months for your turn, it is heart-wrenching for that to be taken away.

“We need to urgently begin tackling the root cause of the problem, which is years of political stagnation and under-funding of the health system leaving Trusts struggling to cope and unpaid carers taking on more and more every day with little-to-no chance for a break.”