East Derry MLA Claire Sugden has said rural residents who are being forced to stay in hospital or move into care homes while they wait for vital at-home care packages are being “failed by the system”.

Sugden said the inability of the health service to provide care packages to rural residents was in part due to its failure to increase fuel allowance for carers.

She added that there are currently 847 people waiting for a full or partial care package in the northern Health and Social Care trust area, wile 369 are waiting in the western area.

The Department of Health has not increased fuel allowance in line with rising prices at the pumps, leading to carers having to foot any extra costs themselves.

Attending rural appointments, which inevitably incur greater travelling costs, has been particularly affected because of this.

“The provision of at-home care packages is wholly inadequate across the whole of Northern Ireland, but with the extra costs involved in travelling greater distances, rural residents are being left with an ever more scant service,” Sugden said.

“I have been contacted by numerous constituents affected by this – some of whom are unable to leave hospital, despite being well enough to, because of the absence of a care package.

“These are people who need varying levels of care, but who would be able to live in their own homes quite comfortably if the care they are entitled to was provided.

“Instead of better enabling people to live in their own homes, the Department of Health is resorting to offering those in need of care free stays in residential, nursing and care homes across the country.

“This is hugely unsettling, disrupting and distressing for the person in need of care and their families – particularly as they often end up resident far away from their home town, which brings additional difficulty and cost for their families.

“This system also comes at a far greater cost to the health service.

“To give people the best and most appropriate care – and at the same time operating the health service in the most efficient way – we must facilitate domiciliary care by supporting carers better financially.

“A wholesale revision of our domiciliary care system is needed.

“People who are able to live in their own homes need to be supported to do so and for that to happen our carers need to be adequately funded.”