Coronavirus: Suspended home care packages 'may be reassessed'
Almost 4,000 domiciliary care packages were suspended across NI during the coronavirus pandemic, according to figures obtained by BBC News NI.
Families and clients took the decision to stop carers coming into their homes to limit the exposure of vulnerable people to the virus.
The Department of Health said most packages will be reinstated when users are ready.
But some may need to be reassessed and could end up being altered.
This is because there may have been changes in the condition of users or the support structures around them.
Eddie Lynch, the Commissioner for Older People, said the resumption of services should not be delayed.
"The immediate thing has to be that people get the package back that they had previously," he told BBC News NI.
"There can be no delay in putting that back in place."
Nearly 24,000 people in Northern Ireland receive domiciliary care, to allow them to live in their own homes.
Nearly three-quarters of that care is delivered by private sector providers.
The figures show almost 1,000 clients in the Western Trust area suspended their packages, with the remaining 3,000 suspensions spread across the four other trust areas.
Mr Lynch said many families decided to suspend care packages because they were "out of work and wanted to protect their loved ones from any possible Covid infection".
'Reassessment should happen later'
"But I think what we're seeing now, as the lockdown eases, more people are going back to work, and it's vital that those care packages are restored immediately, so people get the support that they need."
He said he had heard reports of "families being concerned that packages may have to be reassessed".
"If somebody has received a package previously, that package should be reinstalled immediately.
"If any reassessment has to take place, it can do so at a later date, because people may need increased needs going forward as well, so it's very important that nobody loses out on a care package that they've been granted and that that care package is put back in place as soon as possible."
The changes have also affected those working in the care sector - John Patrick Clayton, from the union Unison, said that it wanted members "working in conditions that are safe but obviously we want to see them working back up at maximum levels in order to protect their own incomes".
Reassessment 'may be a phone call'
"There's obviously a balance to be struck there by making sure we have adequate health and safety measures in place, that we have proper PPE (personal protective equipment).
"But there shouldn't be any undue delay. Vulnerable people who were in receipt of care before Covid-19 should be getting that care going into the future."
In a statement, the Department of Health said: "Some service users have chosen to suspend their domiciliary care package during the ongoing pandemic; most of these packages will be reinstated when the service user is ready for same to recommence.
"If however, there is an indication that there has been a significant change in either the condition of a service user or their supporting structures, then there may be a need for a reassessment, which could result in changes to the package of care."
"Depending on individual circumstances, the reassessment may simply take the form of a telephone discussion, if appropriate."