Health Minister rebuffs myths in Keys over ending the contract with Age Concern which supports delivery of the meals on wheel services. Her answer –

I would like to thank the Member for Onchan, Mr Callister, for his timely question today as it gives me the opportunity to clarify some of myths and some of the misunderstandings that people have regarding the current situation.

 

Myth One

That Age Concern are delivering meals to elderly people free of charge.

 

Fact

My Department pays Age Concern approximately £150,000 a year towards the delivery of a Meals on Wheels service to the people that we refer to them.  Currently, for example, Age Concern purchases a main meal and desert from the Government Catering Service for £2.25 and charges the recipients £3.50 (which is 56% mark-up).

 

Myth Two

That Age Concern delivers hot meals.

 

Fact

They deliver “cook chill” meals which the recipient, or their carer, heats and then serves the meals themselves.

 

Myth Three

Vulnerable people will be left with little or no contact with the outside world.

 

Fact

A significant number of people currently receiving the service also receive other services from the Department including day services and home care services.   Meals on Wheels is only one of a number of services available to independent older people who have support and care needs; some services are provided by the DHSC and others are provided by the private or charitable sector.

 

Myth Four

Vulnerable people will be left without an appropriate meal.

 

Fact

More people are choosing to buy their meals from other providers and there was a 10% decrease in people choosing the Meals on Wheels option in the last year. Should Age Concern decide not to carry on with the service once this subsidy is withdrawn, the Department will assist the current users to select one of the alternative suppliers that best meets their needs. Age Concern has not yet indicated whether they intend to continue to provide the service without subsidy.

 

Myth Five

People will not be able to afford a proper meal.

 

Fact

There are already alternative suppliers on the Island who offer a range of equally competitive meals.

 

Bearing these facts in mind, I will now provide a fuller and more detailed statement.  I am aware that much of this information was not provided in the original press release, as the Department did not wish to be overly critical of a third sector provider.  However, the media attention and statements made by Age Concern have left us with little choice but to provide this additional information.

 

The Meals on Wheels service was established as a charity in 2008, and my Department has subsidised the delivery of meals since then.

 

There is no statutory requirement for The Department to fund the costs of food or meals directly and   we have seen a decline of 10% of people seeking this service over the last twelve months, and yet our level of subsidy has increased.

 

The meals provided are ‘cook chill’ meals, and are delivered between three and five times a week by Age Concern.  The recipient, or their carer, or carer provided through my Department’s home care service, heats and serves the meals – this is not a service provided by Age Concern.

 

All services users have received written notice of the change.  They have been given a telephone number to call if they are concerned or wish to raise any issues with the Department.

The Department will produce an information leaflet, detailing all the alternative providers, menus and costs.

 

Assistance will be provided to existing services users in choosing an alternative service and where appropriate a reassessment of need will be undertaken.

 

Of the people currently receiving the service, a significant number also receive other services from the Department including day services and home care services, and so receive a welfare check beyond that provided by Age Concern. This includes those in sheltered accommodation.

 

When the charity was first set up, there were no other providers offering home delivery of meals on the Island.  This is no longer the case, and the Department is actively working with a number of providers who offer enhanced choice at comparable cost to the current service, with no subsidy from Government.  The Department is aware that more than 160 older people already use an alternative service on Island.

 

The Department recognises its role in ensuring access to a meal and to help individuals decide which of the meals options available they prefer.

 

The Department does not intend to promote one option but to ensure that a number of ways of accessing a regular meal are in place and to work with users to make the choice which best meets their needs. For existing users of the service, the Department will support each individual to choose the most suitable alternative option and ensure that we continue to meet the assessed needs and outcomes.

 

Continuing with the current arrangements has been considered but rejected as the payment of the subsidy is not sustainable and only a limited number of users benefit from a ‘cook chill’ meal. In addition, neither the Social Services Act, nor preceding legislation requires meals to be subsidised or the cost of food to be met by the Department.

 

In closing, I would wish to assure honourable members that a full market impact assessment has been undertaken, and my Department is currently carrying out individual needs assessments with all service users and will offer additional support in securing a replacement service.