Northern Ireland news

No charges planned for domiciliary care packages for now as major consultation on social service begins

A public consultation on the future of social care services is underway, as the number of people aged 85 and over in the north expected to grow by more than 100 per cent over the next two decades
Seanín Graham

DOMICILIARY care packages will continue to be free in Northern Ireland following concerns charges could lead to "adverse consequences" for vulnerable people, according to a major health service report.

The long-awaited consultation paper on plans to overhaul adult social care services does however confirm a separate costings review will probe charges for the residential care home sector, where private fees can be exorbitant.

Introducing a cap on care home costs is among the options.

Launched yesterday by Health Minister Robin Swann, the 108 page document will go out to public consultation.

Among its 48 recommendations are strengthening powers to regulate and inspect private sector care firms by investigating profit levels and management costs.

When he first announced plans for a consultation process last autumn, Mr Swann described the current system as "not fit for purpose".

The plan's central aim is to improve the number and quality of social care services by increasing investment in a sector where pay and conditions have been consistently poor - with many of its workforce on zero hours contracts.

Its release comes fives years after after a report commissioned by the department sparked controversy by proposing means testing people for care home packages.

Unlike England and Wales, packages are currently provided free by the north's health trusts.

Referencing the 2017 'Power to People' report, the consultation notes the disparity in charging arrangements between care homes and domiciliary support.

However, it adds: "The department is concerned that introducing a charge for domiciliary care could have a range of adverse consequences that would mitigate against the policy intention of home based care where possible.

"Consequences could include financial pressures for some recipients and a reluctance to accept necessary services which could lead to a deterioration in someone’s health and wellbeing.

"In relation to care home charging, the department recognises the understandable wish that people have to pass on an inheritance to loved ones. We will shortly be undertaking a detailed review to fully consider the advantages, disadvantages and impact of a variety of charging approaches."

The plan has been produced amid a projected massive growth in the need for social care, with the number of people aged 85 and over expected to grow by more than 100 per cent over the next two decades.

Charity Age NI last night welcomed the consultation: "Families often only need services at a point of crisis or trauma, and can find it difficult to make sense of the detail. This, combined with a lack of general awareness, means the financial implications can come as a shock to many who face difficult choices for the first time."

Mr Swann added: "Northern Ireland has waited too long for reform of adult social care – and for the sector to get the recognition and support it both needs and deserves. I am determined to put this right."

He described charging for care as "both complex and extremely sensitive".

"The current system of charging contributes £173.4 million a year to the adult social care system," he said.

"Replacing that system with an alternative approach that is both fair and feasible would be one of the biggest challenges facing the next executive and assembly."

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