Health services in the Southern Trust area are facing a demographic time bomb after it was revealed that the over 65 population will have leapt by 48 percent by 2021.
Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has warned that local services will have to be transformed to cope with the demands of a rapidly ageing population.
According to the figures, released at last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly by the Department of Finance, the Southern Trust area will have to care and pay for the needs of an extra 26,408 people by 2021, based on its 2006 population figures.
The figures are just as dire in the neighbouring Northern Trust area, which will see an extra 26,408 elderly people, an increase of 45% from its 2006 figure.
SDLP representative McGlone has sounded the alarm in the aftermath of proposed closures to statutory nursing homes in the Southern and Northern Trust areas, and the reduction in the number of private nursing homes in the region.
Mr McGlone said: “Population figures show that in the Northern Trust area by 2021 the number of people aged over 65 will rise by 45% from the number in 2006. In the Southern Trust area that figure will increase by 48%.
“As the population ages, there will be a corresponding increase in pressure on the health service.
“We have already seen a massive rise in the number of people waiting for approved domiciliary care packages over the last year. In November a total of 229 patients had been waiting for more than 2 months for their care packages, with 160 waiting within the Northern Trust area. There are simply not enough care workers employed to deliver the care packages.
“Care homes are also being closed at an alarming rate, and with the pressure on budgets likely to increase there are real concerns about the provision of future health services for an aging population.
“The indications are that the Health Trusts are at risk of failure to prepare for the demographic changes ahead.
“I will be seeking assurances from the Minister that the necessary planning and funding is in place to cope with that demographic change.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said it was prepared for the key population changes: “Of course, the growing and ageing population in the Southern Trust has been very well-recognised as key local factors contributing to the need for change in how we deliver health and social care. Last year, we publicly consulted on our Strategic Plan (2015-2018) ‘Improving Through Change’ which set out a clear strategic direction for the care of older people and the rest of the population in the Southern area and the priorities which will shape our development of care and services.”