Families feel trapped between overcrowded hospitals and a struggling welfare system

MORE families in Northern Ireland feel trapped between overcrowded hospitals and a struggling welfare system, a group representing patients and carers has said.

Katherine McElroy of the Patients and Customers Council said the stereotype of bed blockers refusing to leave hospitals without getting their first choice of care was oversimplified.

This follows several days of extreme pressure on several A&E departments in Northern Ireland.

“The majority of people who don’t need to be hospitalized don’t want to be there,” she said.

“For some families, health trusts cannot identify a package of care for a patient at all.

“They may have been offered a temporary placement in a nursing home and that’s not something the family or the patient would want.

“We have families who have been offered half of the assessed package, which is not reasonable either.”

Ms McElroy, who is responsible for the advocacy and support service at the organisation, said this could include patients who need two caregivers at a time, but only one is offered and difficulty in covering patients in rural areas.

“It’s a very difficult place for patients and families,” she said.

“They will feel the pressure of it, family circumstances today are very different from what they were 20 or 30 years ago, where there were perhaps more options within families to provide that care or act as a palliative.

“People now often live quite a distance from loved ones who need this care, there are all kinds of complications.”

She added that another problem was that many elderly family members who served as caregivers were now struggling with their own health and disability needs.

This week, People Before Profit MP Gerry Carroll called for the nationalization of social care in Northern Ireland to tackle the “obscene” stress placed on patients and carers.

Ms McElroy said: “From our perspective, we want to see the best service provided to families. Clearly, current circumstances allow for a mixed economy of care provided by health trusts and independent agencies.

“I guess it’s not for us to comment. All we want is the best service to the patient, whatever its source.

“Sometimes you don’t know who to talk to.

“People are faced with so many professionals when they talk about coming out, and this may be the first time they’ve been involved in social care.

“They probably don’t know the system, and that’s something we can bring to them.”

This week, UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the UK’s aging population was putting ‘massive pressure’ on health services and announced an extra £1billion for adult social care next year and 1.7 billion pounds the following year.

He said it would help free up around 13,500 hospital beds occupied by those awaiting discharge.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health is also due to hold a multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss the reform.

SDLP MP Colin McGrath said: “Emergency services face an incredibly difficult situation as pressure on beds increases and patient flow blockages impede service delivery.

“Without urgent intervention, the situation will get worse in the winter, patients will have worse outcomes, health service staff will be pushed closer to breaking point and we will see further deterioration of services.

“Nobody wants to be in this situation, but we need to act now to stop things from getting worse.”

Further information from the Patient and Customer Council is available online or on 0800 917 0222.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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