Northern Ireland: Free personal care rejected on cost grounds

    Northern Ireland health minister Michael McGimpsey has said that he will not be able to introduce free personal care for older people due to lack of funds.

    Addressing the Northern Ireland Assembly this week, McGimpsey said that although he remained committed to free personal care it was not affordable within the current comprehensive spending review period, which ends in 2011. 

    Bid for resources rejected

    He continued: “In fact, at the last budget I made a bid for the necessary resources to allow me to introduce free personal care. Despite a compelling case my request was turned down.”

    The Northern Ireland Assembly narrowly voted in favour of providing free personal care in 2007, although no firm date was set by which the policy should be introduced. Following the vote McGimpsey launched a review into the associated costs and it was concluded that implementing the policy would require an extra £30m-£40m in annual funding.

    McGimpsey said: “I will, however, keep this issue under review. I would ask people to join with me in lobbying for more funds to introduce vital services such as this to our most vulnerable members of society.”

    Scotland only country with free personal care

    The announcement means Scotland remains the only country in the UK which provides free personal care for older people, with a £153 weekly payment offered to people over 65 receiving personal care in their own homes or a care home.

    However, the system has been criticised for not being adequately funded and for the use of waiting lists by councils to ration access to free care.

    Northern Ireland’s system, like those of England and Wales, involves care users being charged on a means-tested basis, though in all three countries care home residents receive weekly payments to cover nursing costs which are higher than in Scotland.

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