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29 September 2016

Positive Futures – Why we should care about carers

Positive Futures, the Northern Ireland Assembly staff charity of the year, supports people living with a learning disability, acquired brain injury and autistic spectrum conditions.  Highlighting the complex needs of carers at an event in Parliament Buildings this week, the Positive Futures team, stressed the importance of carers and why we should care for them. 

“The Health and Social Care system would collapse without carers. In Northern Ireland alone, they save the Government £4.6 billion a year.” 
~ Agnes Lunny, CEO of Positive Futures
MLAs heard three powerful stories about the stresses of being a carer from people supported by the charity.  They highlighted the many difficulties faced by carers and what needs to be done to improve their lives, many of whom carry out their duties 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Health Committee Chair, Paula Bradley MLA said she was honoured and humbled to respond to the statements: 
“Can I pay tribute to you for your courage, your tenacity and your positive attitude in coming here today to make the case and shine a light on a genuine and pressing issue. I commit to taking back to the Committee the points you have made and raising your concerns as we carry out our scrutiny and monitoring role.”
Ms Bradley also highlighted the Review of Health Inequalities which was carried out by the Health Committee in the last mandate  and focused on the problems experienced by people with a learning disability.  The Committee’s made a total of eight recommendations to the Department.  These related to:
  • the provision of annual GP health checks; 
  • training for GPs on reasonable adjustments that may be required for people with learning disabilities before, during and after appointments, 
  • reasonable adjustments that can be made at hospital settings; 
  • the consideration of people with learning disabilities when developing public health information and campaigns; and
  • exploring the potential to create a register of people with learning disability in NI in order to assist with future targeting of resources. 

The new Health Committee has committed to reviewing the Department’s implementation of the previous Committee’s report recommendations.

Committee for the Communities Deputy Chair, Michelle Gildernew MLA, responded to the statements in respect of education, employment and social inclusion: 
“Parents should be safe in the knowledge that their son or daughter’s future as an independent human being is protected under our system.  I know that the relevant Committees, including the Communities Committee, will do all we can to ensure that this issue, among all the other competing priorities, is considered by Departments.”
Ms Gildernew referenced the Employment and Learning Committee March report on SEN provision in education, employment and training for those with learning disabilities.  She highlighted the fact that the new Economy Committee will be revisiting that report and identifying issues that they wish take forward.  Ms Gildernew confirmed she would be happy to write to the Economy Committee and ask that it consider the benefits of a transitional protocol with a view to making such a recommendation to the Minister so that carers and people with complex needs get the assistance they need.

The Finance Committee also committed to looking at the issues raised by carers during the event to examine what can be done to support such a vital role and improve the lives of those involved. 

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where carers’ rights are not enshrined in law.  Positive Futures want that to change and have produced a Carers’ Charter asking for:
  • simplification of paperwork, 
  • a single point of contact for carers with Health and Social Services, and 
  • joined-up Government, so that Departments work together. 

The MLAs who attended the event were happy to sign up to the Carer’s Charter and agreed to recommend that their relevant Committees also support the initiative.  

Positive Futures helps transform lives and speak out for the rights of those who need support.  The charity wants to ensure that public services in Northern Ireland are the best they can be.  You can read more about the charity on www.positive-futures.net