The Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keatinge, has called for a commitment from the South Eastern Trust that the assessed needs of 298 older people will be met in full following their plans to drop the 'meals on wheels' daily service.

Claire Keatinge said:

"Older people need and have a right to the services they have been assessed as requiring. It is unacceptable that often when cuts are made to health and social services, it is older people who are hit the hardest. They must be able to be confident that they will not be pawns in budgetary cuts.

"The Trusts assess the need on the basis of those who are unable to, or find it difficult to, prepare a meal for themselves. Once a need has been identified, it is essential that the Trust put in place appropriate services to meet the need. It is crucial that when planning changes to the way services are delivered, the quality of life of older people must be at the heart of the decision making process.

"This is not just about food – it is about the general wellbeing of the older person and ensuring that they will continue to have interaction with others, as many, particularly in winter, will be confined to the house. The 'meals on wheels' service not only ensures that older people who are assessed as requiring the service receive a nutritious meal on a daily basis, but also serves a social function which gives the older person human contact with the person delivering their food, reducing loneliness.

"It is shameful that many older people have been made aware of significant changes to social services through the media. This causes fear and distress to older people who fear that the services they receive that enable them to stay at home and live dignified lives will be changed or withdrawn. It is concerning that lessons do not appear to have been learnt from the poor handling of the proposed closure of statutory residential homes in 2014 or planned reductions in home care support in the Belfast Trust before Christmas time."

"The devastating impact that cuts to vital services have on older people must be a main consideration for those making budget decisions. Services that allow older people to remain in their own homes, maintaining dignified and independent lives should remain a priority, and the decision to cut them flies in the face of Transforming your Care."

"Going forward, the South Eastern Trust must take steps to reassure those affected that any assessed needs will be met in full and that they will receive the care and support they need and are entitled to."