THERE are fears that hundreds of local vulnerable people have been left to fend for themselves after it was revealed that the local health board has cut the number of meals on wheels services by 72 percent over the past five years.
New figures released by the Department of Health reveal that only 217 elderly residents currently receive a meals-on-wheels service in the local health board area, which includes the Dungannon District, the lowest in Northern Ireland.
The number has plummeted from a total of 773 in 2007.
Shockingly, the findings show that the provision of meals on wheels is much higher in other board areas. Whereas, only 1 in 20 of the services were provided in the Southern Board area, the figure was much higher in Belfast where the proportion receiving the service was 1 in 3.
The figures also show that the Southern Board has the lowest number of residential care places available.
The report said that the findings might be explained by the fact that reablement services have already been introduced in the Northern, South Eastern and Southern HSC Trusts and are in the process of being introduced in the Belfast and Western HSC Trusts, therefore reducing the demand for meals on wheels services.
In addition, the Southern Trust has axed its home help staff by just under 10 percent from 1,534 in 2010 to 1,398 last year.
The Southern Trust currently provides support to 5,000 people who require some level of home care, including domiciliary care or personal care. Home help staff provide care from cleaning and laundry to bathing and preparing meals.
According to DUP MLA Lord Maurice Morrow, cuts to home-helps and meals-on-wheels will put vulnerable lives at risk.
Commenting on earlier cuts to the service, he said: “It is difficult enough for many of those who require home-help services, not just from a support perspective but from a social angle.
“I have many constituents who are elderly and frail, as well as others who are profoundly disabled and they suffer from a degree of isolation. The services of a home help for many, are a lifeline.
“In addition, home helps provide an invaluable service without which some people simply could not continue to live independently in their own homes. That is a vital part of maintaining the rights of the elderly or disabled, and it is a fundamental principle to allow them to remain in their own homes, where and for as long as is possible.”