Firm withdraws meals on wheels service

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

A ‘Meals on Wheels’ provider has withdrawn the service from the Southern Health Trust including the Craigavon area blaming funding cutbacks

The firm Domestic Care claims it has been forced to withdraw the vital service to vulnerable people as cutbacks mean the operation is no longer economically viable.

They plan to stop delivering meals to clients from July 14 and four members of staff are to be made redundant.

The firm claimed the Southern Trust had been systematically cutting back on the numbers of people eligible for the service, with a reduction in service from 4,300 meals per week at its peak to just 600 today.

Chief Executive Lesley Megarity said: “The Trust has run down the service so much that it is no longer sustainable. This is a tragedy both for our staff and clients.

“We have been providing high quality nutritionally balanced meals to vulnerable people for almost 20 years – and our service gets satisfaction rates in excess of 90%.

“Yet this was always about much more than that: it is also about checking that our clients are safe and well. Our drivers got to know our clients really well over that period, and were able to report back

to the Trust if they were experiencing any difficulties. Service users have repeatedly stated that community meals are vital to them remaining in their own home. Good nutrition is critically important to achieving the objectives of Transforming Your Care, helping older people to live healthier independent lives at home for longer.

“Sadly the Trust has raised the access criteria for people to qualify for community meals so high that not a single older person has been referred to the service in the past year. We are especially shocked

that the access criteria has been changed without any public consultation. Helping people to live independent lives in their communities is a central plank of government policy – one for which, judging by their actions, the Southern Trust has scant regard. We believe that those people who formerly would have received community meals are being signposted to services that can be unaffordable for them.

Recently Health Minister Edwin Poots emphasised the importance of community meals which he described as a “vital service” that needs to be protected.

Despite the Minister’s statement no older people were referred to Domestic Care’s services by the Southern Trust in the last year.

Lesley Megarity continued: “We are extremely disappointed that all our attempts to keep the service running have been stone walled by the Southern Trust, and so, with the greatest regret we are forced to pull

out of the area.

Domestic Care’s community meals services to other parts of Northern Ireland are not affected by this development.

A Spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said: “Domestic Care Services recently approached the Trust requesting a significant uplift to the cost of its meals. The Trust is unable to meet these additional costs and Domestic Care Services have informed the Trust they are ceasing providing the service from 15 July 2013.

“DCS provided meals to 88 clients in the Armagh, Dungannon, Banbridge and Craigavon areas.

“All clients in receipt of a meal from Domestic Care Services are being informed of the current situation and that the Trust will be putting in alternative arrangements so that they will continue to receive a meal service. These new arrangements will begin on 15 July 2013.

“The Trust is disappointed that DCS has issued this information to the media as they had agreed that they would allow time for Trust staff to contact the clients and their family to allay any concerns in the change of meal provision.

“The Southern Trust provides a domiciliary care service for approximately 5000 people in their own home. In addition the Trust supports many more people to access a meal through social centres, day centres and luncheon clubs which have the added benefit in reducing social isolation for many older people.

“We are committed to providing a wide range of domiciliary services and where assessment demonstrates the need for subsidised meal to be provided, the Trust will put arrangements in place to facilitate this. This assessment is based on the Departmental Circular HSS (ECCU) 2/2008: Regional Access Criteria for Domiciliary Care.

“We provide the meal service through a contract with five meal providers including Domestic Care Services. The client pays a contribution of £1.50 and the Trust pays the difference.

“The Trust is working within a context of extremely constrained financial circumstances, an increasingly elderly population and increasing public expectations for their care, and is working hard to provide services to meet assessed need within the resources available.

“We cannot meet all needs within our current funding and many people are supported to live at home through a partnership of family, carers, the person’s own resources and Trust services. The Trust continues to help those most in need by providing domiciliary care packages including a meals service to those with eligible critical and substantial needs.

“As demand for services for older people continues to increase all Health & Social Care Trusts have to make sure that every pound spent is helping those most in need. At the same time, the Trust must make sure that the services offered, support individuals to improve and maintain their independence. With these responsibilities, the Trust carefully assesses each individual before any service is provided. As people’s circumstances are always changing the services provided can also change over time.

“Any changes in the service that people receive will be discussed with that person and their carer before any action is taken and our staff will advise of all the local alternatives available to them.”