General Assembly welcomes review of NI social care

4.10.2021 | Social Witness, General Assembly, Church in Society, COVID-19 Emergency

Ministers and elders from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s 500-plus congregations, gathered in Belfast today for the all-Ireland denomination’s General Assembly, has welcomed the review of the social care sector announced by the Minister of Health in Northern Ireland. It also called on the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to put in place measures to ensure that mistakes made during the pandemic are avoided in the future.

In its report, which was debated this afternoon, the Council for Social Witness had a significant focus on the pandemic. The Council is tasked with the delivery of an effective social care service for the denomination. As a service provider with a budged of £10 million, the Council manages PCI’s provision of residential, nursing, supported housing, respite and day care, and community based programmes, employing around 400 people.

In the resolution, the General Assembly welcomed ‘the review of the social care sector announced by the Minister of Health in Northern Ireland, and call[ed] upon all parties to take the hard decisions that will be required to implement long overdue and necessary change in this area and in the health service generally.’

Speaking about the pandemic to the Assembly, the Convener of the Council for Social Witness, Rev David Brice said, “To our residents and their families we are profoundly sorry for what they had to go through, it was appalling, the social deprivation enforced upon us was close to being intolerable and in any other circumstances totally unacceptable. But with no defences against this virus there was no choice, no other option. We are grateful that we have emerged into better days…

Welcoming the forthcoming social care review in Northern Ireland, Mr Brice said, “I cannot stress enough how important this is. The Council of Social Witness operates almost permanently with considerable staffing vacancies. It is generally accepted that workers in the social care sector are underpaid for the work they do and it is further generally accepted that this is due to a lack of investment from public funds. The fear is that the Social Care Sector will crumble if action is not taken.  In relation to Northern Ireland, whatever other issues occupy political life they should not be allowed to interrupt this review.”

The retiring Secretary to the Council for Social Witness, Lindsay Conway OBE, said that the review of Social Care, “…must grasp the big issues of underfunding, terms, conditions and pay, create a career structure and address both the use and cost of agencies. The Department of Health needs to respond to the ongoing crisis in Social Care, the appointing of staff has become more and more difficult. We need to give the care of older people and those with additional needs the highest priority…’

The General Assembly also expressed its gratitude ‘to all who have worked in PCI’s care facilities during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, recognising the sacrificial service of both locally based staff and senior management that always put the care of residents to the fore.’

In a separate resolution, the General Assembly further recognised ‘the high level of additional funding provided by the governments in both jurisdictions for the provision of necessary additional equipment and staffing for the care sector in response to the ongoing challenges of Covid-19; however, recognising the under resourcing and lack of support for the care sector in the early months of the pandemic, call upon both the NI Executive and the Irish Government to put in place measures to ensure these mistakes are avoided in the future.”

The General Assembly will meet in Assembly Buildings until the afternoon of Wednesday, 6 October. Business will also take place on Monday and Tuesday evenings. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here.   As in previous years, throughout the General Assembly there will be a live Twitter feed. You can follow preceedings via @pciassembly hashtag #PCIGA21.

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