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					Questions raised at the Seniors Convention, 29 May 2008, at the
Grove Wellbeing Centre, Belfast.

Questions addressed to Belfast Trust

1. “We are worried about the impact that the loss of the 3,000 trust jobs
   will have on older peoples’ hospital care, how will the standards be
   maintained with less staff?”

   Answer: “As stated at the conference, Belfast Trust is required to make
   savings of 10% of its total budget over the next three years. These
   savings are to be made by way of efficiencies but without reducing the
   delivery or standard of care. Through new ways of working and
   modernisation of how services are delivered we believe we can
   achieve these efficiencies.

   It is not only clear as to the level of job reduction there will be in the
   trust but every effort will be made to ensure that the same standard of
   service delivery can be maintained when there are changes to how the
   services are delivered”.

2. “Older people want to be able to access services and to be treated
   equally. Are there any proposals for example to extend the breast
   screening programme to include women over 70?”

   Answer: “There are plans to invite 65-70 year olds for routine breast
   screening from April 2009. Currently there are no plans to extend this
   to over 70s but anyone requesting an appointment will be offered one”.

3. “Are there any plans to allow older people access to register with an
   NHS dentist that is reasonably close to their home?”

   Answer: “Access to general dental services has been deteriorating for
   a number of years as more and more GDPs opt to decrease their
   health service commitment and increase the proportion of private work
   they undertake. The current dental contract places the decision
   whether to accept any individual as a patient with the dentist, as is the
   decision whether to offer health service or private provision. Therefore,
   while these regulations remain in force neither DHSSPS nor the boards
   can require any dentist or practice to take on an individual as a patient
   in contrast to, for example, the GMS contract that empowers boards to
   require a practice to take on named individuals.

   Against this background all sections of the public are experiencing
   difficulty accessing general dental services and this is only likely to
   change when there are more dentists willing to work within the health
   service. This is why the local minister, Mr Michael McGimpsey, talks
   about introducing a new dental contract in Northern Ireland with the
   intention that this will be more attractive to dentists than the current
   one. If it succeeds in this regard it will encourage dentists to sign up
   more health service patients thereby increasing the capacity of general
   dental services across the province. Negotiations between DHSSPS
   and the British Dental Association on a new contract have been going
   on for several years and it is likely to be some time before these reach
   a conclusion and are "offered" to the profession, so in the meantime
   access is unlikely to improve and may deteriorate further.

   Conscious of the latter very unsatisfactory situation Mr McGimpsey has
   now identified resources and authorised, as an interim measure, that
   an international tendering exercise should be undertaken in an effort to
   attract new dentists into Northern Ireland. The tender is currently
   underway seeking to bring 36 additional dentists into Northern Ireland
   who will confine themselves to health service provision and not
   undertake any private work.
   This initiative will take some time to have an impact on the ground,
   given unavoidable delays regarding recruitment of the dentists and the
   setting up of practices, but if successful it will increase health service
   dental capacity by up to 50,000 places.

   I trust the above explains the current situation and clarifies what action
   is being taken in an effort to improve overall access for the whole
   population over the medium term. Undoubtedly, therefore, while these
   measures are not specifically targeted at "older people", they will assist
   those who fall into this category to access local health service dental

4. “We welcome the publication of Involving You, the Framework for
   Community Development and User Involvement of the Trust. The next
   step is that each service group within the Trust will develop its own
   specific action plan. What is the time frame for developing the plan for
   Older Peoples Services and how will you involve older people in that

   Answer: “The service group is expected to have a specific action plan
   in place by autumn 2008. We have not as yet identified the specific
   area we may wish to focus on. When we do this we will involve specific
   older people as service recipients and or their carers.

   With regard to the framework for Older People‟s Services we would
   hope to involve the North and West Belfast Older Peoples Forum and
   its equivalent, Engage with Age, from the South and East Belfast

5. “We welcome the engagement of Denise Killough, Podiatry Manager,
   with older people forums on the issue of reduced podiatry services.
   How will the trust support increased resourcing for this service?”
   This question was referred to the Belfast Trust, Podiatry Service for

6. “We welcome the trusts engagement with older people on the issue of
   care packages. What is the policy to ensure that care packages are in
   place before people leave hospital and that the process is started well
   before discharge?”

   Answer: “Priorities for Action which is the structure by which
   government sets targets to trusts has stated that patients with complex
   needs should be discharged no later than 48 hours from being
   declared medically fit.

   The trust has invested considerable time and effort this year to meet
   this target and obviously that necessitates that care packages are fully
   ready to go on discharge. Equally, the trust is working hard to ensure
   that every patient has an expected date of discharge as soon after their
   admission as possible. The combination of these two should ensure
   satisfactory outcome to the question.”

7. “The South and East Belfast Trust supported older peoples’ groups
   through a small grant scheme and access to the Bringing Care to
   People buses. This was of huge benefit in helping to keep groups
   going especially when people became less mobile. Can you reassure
   us that these schemes will continue and perhaps some consideration
   be given to developing them?”

   Answer: “The trust will be reviewing its relationship with the voluntary
   and community sector over the coming year which will include the
   Small Grant Scheme and access to transport. The trust recognises the
   significant benefits these services bring to the groups involved and will
   consult widely on their effectiveness. There are no plans to alter these
   arrangements at present and if development opportunities arise that
   can help the trust deliver its services more efficiently then these will be

8. “Are any cuts anticipated in the budget of Older Peoples’ Services?”

   Answer: “As already stated, the trust is required to provide efficiency
   targets, however equally the trust is able to bid for new services from
   commissioners. The trust is actively doing this and significant
   investment plans have been developed for the next three years in new
   and modernised services.

Questions addressed to Translink

1. “Can bus drivers be trained to allow older people to be seated before
   driving away?”
   Answer: “Within Translink we regard the safety of our passengers and
   other road users as being our highest priority. All of our drivers have
   been trained internally in Advanced Driving and Customer Care. As
   part of customer care training drivers are reminded of the importance of
   ensuring that all passengers are safely positioned before moving off
   from stops.”

2. “Can bus drivers carry a form that would allow older people refunds
   when they have forgotten, lost or damaged their smart pass?”

   Answer: “The rules of this scheme are devised by DRD. One of the
   conditions of the scheme is that “If a Smart Pass is lost or damaged the
   Smart Pass holder will have to pay for a replacement and will not be
   refunded for any fares paid in the interim”. Customers can only re-
   claim the cost of journeys made for faulty or stolen Smart Passes
   (Providing a crime number is provided) by sending their receipts along
   with a covering letter to the Smart Pass office upon receipt of their new
   replacement pass.”

3. “How can Translink and the Environmental Health Department of the
   council work together to stop the buses leaving their engines running at
   the City Hall and causing pollution and a health hazard?”

   Answer: “Translink‟s policy is that engines must be switched off
   whenever possible at bus stands, in bus stations and when stopped in
   built up areas so that noise nuisance and pollution is minimised.
   Instructions are issued to drivers accordingly. Translink as a public
   transport provider takes civic responsibility and commitment to
   reducing the impact of vehicles on the environment very seriously.

   Metro has one of the youngest bus fleets in the UK, so has the highest
   percentage of vehicles meeting the increasingly stringent emission
   standards. Additionally, Translink have fitted CRTs (continuously
   regenerative traps) to the exhausts of a sizeable number of vehicles,
   which is over-and-above the requirements of the legislation. The Euro
   standards limit levels of Nitrous Oxides (NOx), Hydrocarbons (HC),
   Particulates Matter (PM) and carbon Monoxide (CO). The CRT further
   reduces the PM emission.”

4. “How can Translink and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)
   work together to ensure that cars do not park at bus stops because the
   drivers are telling their managers that this is what prevents them
   getting near the stop and kneeling the buses?”

   Answer: “Translink‟s drivers are instructed to ensure that the vehicles
   are stopped as close to the kerb as possible. Bus stops that are
   identified as being problem locations in terms of illegal parking are
   monitored with a view to relocation if necessary to alleviate the
   problem. Translink are heavily dependent on the PSNI and parking
   attendants patrolling bus routes to enforce parking restrictions. We can
     report that Translink enjoy a good working relationship and cooperation
     with both bodies in seeking to eliminate this problem.

     The PSNI responded that the offence of illegal parking on a bus stop
     was de-criminalised on 30 October 2006. The responsibility for
     enforcement now lies with the DRD Road Service traffic attendants.
     The police have powers of enforcement for moving traffic offences in
     bus lanes. While the police cannot enforce parking on bus stops police
     officers have been reminded to challenge offenders noted doing so.”

Questions addressed to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive

  1. “What assistance is available to buy fuel considering the rise in fuel

     Answer: “There are a number of schemes available to assist tenants in
     paying for their energy bills although there is nothing directly from the
     Housing Executive:

        Annual winter fuel payments for the elderly.

        Pre-payment via Paypoint for oil is available from 54 oil distributors.
         Information on distributors operating this system is available on

        Some St Vincent de Paul societies are operating a pre-payment
         scheme for oil using fuel stamps.

        Pre-payment is available for gas from both Phoenix and Firmus.

        Pre-payment is available for electricity. Keypad meters are also
         available which is a method of pre-paying but also allows you to
         monitor your electricity usage.”

  2. “What can be done to help us to stay in our homes as long as

     Answer: “The NIHE Home Improvement Grants scheme provides an
     important means of assistance to vulnerable people many of whom are
     elderly to enable them to live comfortably and safely in their own

     The grants that are currently available are:

     Renovation Grants: available for all unfit properties in both the owner
     occupied and privately rented sectors. The maximum grant limit is
Replacement Grants: available for all unfit properties which are
classed as rural properties where a replacement grant is deemed the
most suitable solution. The maximum grant limit is £32,500.

Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG): this is a mandatory grant available
to make the home of a person with a disability suitable for their needs
based on the recommendation of an occupational therapist. The
maximum grant £25,000. (This can be increased to £50,000 where

Home Repair Assistance Grants (HRA): available to home owners
and tenants on means tested benefits or who are infirm or have a
disability to streamline assistance with repairs and improvements and
basic security measures to properties which only require small scale
works. The maximum grant is £5,000 in any three year period. The
grants strategy gives enhanced grant aid to elderly people in Rural
Priority and Grants Urban Priority Areas. Within these areas the Home
Repair Assistance grants are available to all owner occupiers and
tenants aged 70 and over.

Group Repair: available to landlords and owner occupiers to improve
the external fabric of terraced properties where an area based
approach to improvement has been agreed.

The major grants (Renovation, Replacement, DFG and Group Repair)
are subject to means testing through a process referred to as the „Test
of Resources‟. That is, the amount of grant available will be determined
through consideration of the cost of the approved works and the
resources available to the owner. In this way, households with the least
resources receive the greatest financial help. The grants have an upper
ceiling which is reviewed from time to time.

Home Improvement Agencies

Since 1988, the Housing Executive has approved the use of two Home
Improvement Agencies to provide advice and assistance to grant
applicants who are elderly or who have a disability.

Gable operates in the North West of the province, in the Derry,
Limavady, Magherafelt and Strabane District Council areas.

Fold Staying Put operates in the rest of Northern Ireland.

The Housing Executive funds Fold and Gable, so their advice and
assistance are free to grant applicants. The Home Improvement
Agencies concentrate on providing their service to disabled grant
applicants, and elderly people over 75 years of age.
The range of services available to grant applicants from Fold and
Gable includes:

Information on grants from Home Improvement,
Advice on adaptations for disabled people,
Practical help with the grants administrative process,
Technical support and advice, for example, help selecting builders and
Obtaining plans,
Help to organise the building work,
Visits on site while the work is ongoing.

Warm Homes Grant Scheme

The Warm Homes Scheme is aimed at private sector housing only,
such as, those who are owner occupiers or who rent their homes from
private landlords. A grant of £850 is available for insulation measures
and up to £4,300 for insulation and heating measures. Measures
include cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, draught proofing, energy
advice and conversion, installation, repair or upgrade to oil or gas
central heating systems.

There are three main groups of householders who are eligible for
insulation measures:

Householders of any age who have a child under the age of 16 and
who are in receipt of one or more of the following benefits: Housing
Benefit, Rate Rebate, Income Support, Income Based Job Seekers

Householders under the age of sixty who are in receipt of a disability
related benefit.

Householders who are 60 years and over and are in receipt of one or
more of the following benefits: Rate Rebate, Housing Benefit, Pension
Credit, Income Based Job Seekers Allowance, Attendance Allowance,
Disability Living Allowance.

As well as insulation measures, the last group of householders, such
as, group c, are also eligible for heating measures.

In addition the Supporting People programme funds a number of
initiatives to provide housing support services to older people within the
community to enable them to continue to live satisfying lives in their
own homes. For example, within the Northern Health and Social Care
trust there is an example of partnership working between NIHE
Supporting People, Fold Housing Association and the voluntary sector.
The scheme provides a neighbourhood warden and assistive
technology to enable older people to remain at home enabling them to
live independently.
   3. What plans are there for increasing the level of build of social housing?

      Under the Programme for Government the DSD Minister Margaret
      Ritchie announced new targets for the next 3 years for social housing
      (subject to funding availability).

         1,500 new homes 2008-2009
         1,750 new homes 2009-2010
         2,000 new homes 2010-2011.

Questions addressed to Belfast City Council

   1. “How can we have regular meetings with the councillors and hear
      about the decisions they make?”

      Answer: “Any member of the public can attend council meetings which
      occur regularly in the Council chamber. The minutes of these meetings
      are also available free of charge and in various formats. You can
      contact the committee services section of the council for these details.

      The council welcomes visits to and from older peoples groups and has
      in fact hosted an information session for „silver power‟ and „grey
      matters‟ (local groups established through a capacity building
      partnership – the Changing Age Partnership) in this past couple of
      years. All councillors are interested in the work of older peoples‟
      groups and time permitting will come to speak at and participate in your

      A cross party reference group has been established to consider issues
      affecting older people and through working with its partners it plans to
      develop mechanisms that engage older people in the decisions that
      impact on them so that we are working with our older citizens and are
      not perceived as „doing things to them‟.

      We want the convention to become an annual event and again
      welcome your views as to how this event should be shaped in future
      years. We will evaluate the convention and then get together with the
      representative forums to discuss how to take this forward.”

   2. “We want to hear about what is going on in the council and other
      agencies, how can we do that?”

      Answer: “The council publicises all of its events in City Matters (the
      Belfast residents‟ magazine) and through the local press and through
      the Belfast City Council website. City Matters will in the future host a
      page dedicated to older people where current information and events
      will be publicised.
   A new resource pack is being developed in partnership with Belfast
   Healthy Cities and other agencies. It will contain information on a
   huge range of areas and will include contact details for organisations
   and is specifically aimed to assist older people.”

3. “The transport to Roselawn Cemetery was really helpful. A flexible pick
   up system is the key to its success if the target group is older people
   with mobility issues. Could this be organised in partnership with a door
   to door transport provider?”

   Answer: “The council is currently reviewing the pilot bus service to
   Roselawn and can consider this in relation to door to door provider.
   The council needs to consider costs and other resource implications.
   A door to door service operated by DRD seems to be a very useful
   scheme for older people and disabled people and only £1.50 per trip.”

4. “Roaming wardens have been a huge success in reducing fear of crime
   and anti-social behaviour and improving the quality of life in
   communities. Six weeks is not long enough. Can the council make
   these posts permanent in local communities?”

   Answer: “The Roaming Warden Service has been operating for almost
   12 months and feedback from communities that have received the
   service has been extremely positive. In response to feedback we have
   recently extended the time period that wardens will remain in an area
   for up to three months and following new recruitment we hope to be
   able to deploy two teams in the future. An evaluation and review of the
   service is currently underway and will take into account proposals to
   introduce Police Community Support Officers throughout the city in the
   future. We hope to bring recommendations on the future of warden
   services in Belfast to council and other partner organisations for
   consideration in the autumn time.”

5. “Would it be possible for Trading Standards to produce an approved list
   of vetted and approved handymen who could do gardening and repairs
   for older people as well as give some price guidelines? Older people
   are prepared to pay reasonable rates but are afraid for their safety,
   poor quality work or being fleeced when trying to get work done.”

   Answer: “The interagency group that has been formed will be working
   towards improving information on areas such as this. A resource pack
   is also being produced and may provide information”

6. “Insurance is a big issue for older peoples groups and there is much
   confusion around it. Could community services provide an advice
   service and information on possible measures to reduce liability and
   risk including disclaimers, as well as possibilities for group insurance?”

   Answer: “We would not have the expertise in this area. The NI Council
   for Voluntary Action (NICVA) could advise on group insurance.”
   7. “There are 180 older peoples groups in South and East Belfast with
      more in North and West Belfast. Most groups provide a year round
      voluntary, self help service of social and educational activities for under
      £1,000 per year. Would council consider contributing to the
      development of these health and wellbeing initiatives with grants of
      £500 per year to each group?”

      Answer: “Community groups (including constituted older people‟s
      groups) can apply for a Community Development Project Grant. The
      maximum award will not exceed £500. The emphasis of this grant is to
      support and strengthen local efforts to enhance and improve the quality
      of life within a neighbourhood or area. Closing dates for application are
      1 March and 1 October in each year.”

   8. “Summer can be a lonely time for older people when all the groups
      close. Would the council consider a short summer scheme for older
      people something along the lines of that provided for young people?”

      Answer: “Community Services may consider operating summer
      schemes aimed at older people next year (2009-2010) on a pilot basis
      (subject to available resources).”

   9. “Would Council consider sending some representatives to the Senior
      Games in Horsens, Denmark next May, with the view to assessing the
      possibilities of doing something similar in Belfast?”

      Answer: “This is something that the council is willing to consider.”

Questions addressed to ministers. (The following questions have been
sent to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and we
will post the answers as soon as they are received):

   1. “Where does the money go from unclaimed older peoples benefits?
      Can it be put back in to support older people in other ways?”

   2. The closure of post offices will have a major effect on how older people
      collect benefits and socialise in the community, what support will we be
      given to collect our benefits?

   3. Will a representative of older peoples' forums or groups be included in
      the recruitment panel for the post of Advocate for Older People
      currently being advertised as well as that for the proposed

   4. Will the proposed Commissioner for Older People be given powers to
      require a co-ordinated approach between government departments
   and statutory agencies, through the development of a plan to improve
   services for and participation of older people?

5. What assistance is available to buy fuel considering the rise in fuel