Increase in care hours questioned

Personal care appears to be increasing as the health board reduces general home help and the two might be connected, Southern District Health Board member Richard Thomson said at the board's full meeting yesterday.

Mr Thomson was responding to a report presented to the meeting about home-help cuts the board has carried out since the start of March.

During the first month of the cuts, personal-care hours in Otago jumped about 1000 hours a month, to 18,000 hours. In Southland, they increased about 400 hours.

Figures provided to the Otago Daily Times but not available at the meeting reveal that in April personal-care hours in Otago dropped by about 400, and in Southland, 100.

By May 14, the board had sent 1427 letters to elderly residents in Otago and Southland who were receiving an hour and a-half help or less.

About half appealed and some appeals were yet to be completed.

Some elderly had kept their help, but with reduced hours, the report to the board said.

As of May 14, the cuts had saved about 6000 hours' housework a month across the two regions.

Yet to start were reviews of those receiving more than an hour and a-half, but they were about to, finance and funding general manager Robert Mackway-Jones said.

Mr Thomson was concerned personal-care hours were on the rise through March.

"Are we getting a switch?" he asked.

Responding, Mr Mackway-Jones said personal care and home help were unrelated. Mr Thomson said while they were different, there was a relationship.

He likened it to when benefit rules changed, and numbers on unemployment and sickness benefits changed.

Board member Susie Johnstone said the report suggested a different approach was being taken in the two regions. More than half the hours saved have been in Southland.

Mr Mackway-Jones responded that Southland was ahead of Otago in completing the reduction process. Great efforts were made to ensure staff in both centres were consistent in their approach.

The board indicated in February that after the home-help cuts it would start to reduce personal-care packages.

The board initially hoped to save $4 million a year through the housework cuts, which has reduced to $3.6 million.

The board faced an outcry when it announced the cuts in February, and agreed to let people with high need keep their help, reducing the amount of money saved.



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