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16 Aug 2022

County Derry MLAs calls for respite services

"The Trust should have contingency plans," said Emma Sheerin.

County Derry MLAs calls for respite services

Emma Sheerin and Claire Sugden have been discussing the issue in recent days.

A Mid Ulster MLA has again called on the Northern Trust to address the issue of respite services for adults with complex needs.

Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin said she had been constantly raising the issue with the local health trust and the Department of Health.

“As with domiciliary care in the community, the Covid-19 pandemic saw many families stepping up, filling the gap, and taking on full caring responsibility for their loved ones,” she said.

“We've seen this across the board, where families gave up their care packages for elderly relatives in order to minimise traffic through their homes.

“People who should have been working remotely ended up taking on full time carer roles as well as doing their jobs.

“It was the exact same for those living with adults with additional needs - the day services all but totally disappeared, and families became full time carers overnight.

“This disrupted routines and caused untold damage for people living with autism, learning difficulties, and complex needs.

“Since we began our journey out of lockdown, adults with special needs have been somewhat of a forgotten cohort, with adult services the last to resume.

“I've received calls from constituents about centres closing, bus routes stopping, literally overnight because of a Covid outbreak.

“The Trust should have contingency plans in place so that this does not happen.

Ms Sheerin said that though the situation was heading towards normality, overnight stay capacity, which she described as a 'lifeline for families', was still running at a minimal service.

'Previously families with a relative with a learning difficulty would have had a timetable covering a 6 month period, telling them which weekends and weeks they would be able to have respite,” she said.

“That's something that is so key for families in order to plan breaks and have holidays, especially in situations where there might be other children in the family.

“I have written to the trust to ask that this resumes and goes back to a full normal service as a matter of urgency, and also that our full suite of respite and day services are assessed so that we can look after the many many unpaid carers across our area, without whom society would not function.

“The caring economy is worth millions across the North, and it is time that family carers received the recognition for what they are doing.”

Meanwhile, independent MLA Claire Sugden has said respite care must return to at least pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible to avoid parents and carers becoming “burnt out”.

Respite services, which give those looking after children and adults with additional needs some time off from often full time caring, remain well below levels seen prior to the covid-19 outbreak. This is the case across all Northern Ireland health and social care trusts.

“Caring for a loved one can be a 24-hour a day job, and even with unwavering dedication, people simply need a break,” Ms Sugden said.

“I have been questioning Executive ministers for many months about the level of respite care that is available for people, yet the situation remains that this is still wholly inadequate.

“Many people have been running on empty for months, if not now years, which comes at a detriment to their own physical and mental wellbeing. We simply have to look after parents and carers so they can continue their vital role in caring for their loved one.”

There was a lack of services prior to the pandemic, Ms Sugden said. The ambition now should be to improve on pre-pandemic levels.

“We need to start moving in the right direction – with respite support, but also right across the health and social care system,” she continued. “This means not just getting back to pre-pandemic levels, but aiming to improve on them as well.

“This may mean changing how the system is designed and implemented, but the result must be that families are better supported in looking after their vulnerable relatives.”

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