Health Minister Robin Swann has visited Lurgan Hospital to heap praise on the team behind an innovative and award-winning service providing healthcare to vulnerable older patients in care homes and their own homes.
The Southern Trust’s Acute Care at Home service was the first service of its kind in Northern Ireland.
It is led by consultant geriatricians and includes specialist doctors and nurses, staff nurses, healthcare assistants, pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and works closely with many other community services.
The team has the same access to diagnostic and laboratory services as in a hospital setting and can treat patients over the age of 65 with a wide range of acute illnesses in residential and nursing homes, or in patients’ own homes.
They also use mobile diagnostic equipment to carry out scans, take blood tests or organise other investigations and treat a range of conditions like chest infections, pneumonia or dehydration.
The Minister met the team delivering the service during a visit to Lurgan Hospital.
He said: “The Southern Trust’s excellent Acute Care at Home service provides care which is practical, efficient and responsive to patients’ needs.
“It is very effective in helping to reduce the need for admission to hospital and in keeping patients as independent as possible.
“One of my key priorities is to support, stabilise and standardise community services through a new regional model for intermediate care. This is currently being consulted upon as part of the Review of Urgent and Emergency Care.
“I have heard clearly from service users and carers that ‘home’ is where they want to be cared for, so the aim is to build better services for the future and improve intermediate care services to ensure that people are supported to lead the best life possible.”
The Acute Care at Home service has been expanding across the Southern Trust area since it was originally set up as a pilot in 2014.
At the Health Service Journal’s Patient Safety Awards in 2021, the Acute Care at Home team won the ‘Deteriorating Patients and Rapid Response Initiative of the Year’ award.
Lead Consultant Geriatrician for the service, Dr Patricia McCaffrey, from Southern Trust, said: “A hospital admission can be traumatic and disruptive for anyone, but particularly for an older person who may be less mobile, or for those who have dementia.
“Through the Acute Care at Home service, we are transforming the way we offer unscheduled care to our increasing number of older service users who are living with more complex needs.
“We hope that by offering high quality care in their own home environment, we will promote a better quality of life for our older population, avoiding more stressful admissions to our very busy acute hospitals when it is safe to do so.”
Whilst in Lurgan, the Minister joined the Platinum Jubilee celebrations at the PALMS Day Care Centre, a community-based facility for older people covering the greater Lurgan area.
It was established more than 25 years ago by the Shankill Parish Caring Association and is based in the Jethro Centre.
The Minister had the honour of cutting the Jubilee cake. He said: “I am delighted to once again be able to attend such events in person and to meet people who are really at the heart of everything my Department strives to achieve.
“I would like to commend the staff and volunteers working in the centre, for their hard work and determination over the course of the pandemic.
“Right across Northern Ireland, in the most challenging of times, our care workers have been there for people and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I know they will continue to be there for the people they support as we move into more normal times.”
Andrew Dunlop, manager of the Jethro Centre, said: “”PALMs Day Centre is an integral part of the wider community provision offered here at the Jethro Centre.
“We are particularly proud to have been providing social opportunities and activities for some of the most vulnerable in our society for over 25 years via PALMs.
“On behalf of the Trustees of Shankill Parish Caring Association, I am delighted to welcome the Minister to our celebration tea party and witness first-hand the difference day centre services make to clients and their families.”