A major overhaul of adult social care has been announced by Health Minister Robin Swann.
The plan has been produced amid a projected massive growth in the need for social care, with the number of people aged 85 and over in Northern Ireland expected to grow by more than 100% over the next two decades.
Mr Swann has also commissioned a review of charging arrangements, which includes the option of introducing a cap on costs faced by individuals and families for social care.
The 48 reform proposals will be the subject of a 16-week public consultation.
Recommendations include stronger powers to regulate and inspect independent sector providers of care – covering such areas as levels of profit and management costs.
The Department of Health also intends to review the current balance between private, public and voluntary sector provision in social care.
Services provided in adult social care include care homes, day care, domiciliary care and supported living.
Mr Swann said: “Northern Ireland has waited too long for reform of adult social care – and for the sector to get the recognition and support it both needs and deserves. I am determined to put this right.
“We know that there is growing demand for adult social care and that some aspects of the current system don’t work the way we would like them to.
“We need to address this and that’s why we need to change how social care is organised, funded, commissioned, delivered and led.”
The minister continued: “I would encourage as many people as possible to respond to the public consultation and get involved in the discussion about these most vital of services.
“Alongside the public consultation, I have commissioned a full review of current charging arrangements.
The ongoing pressures on public funding are well documented and there are many competing demands for investment in health and social care
Health Minister Robin Swann
“This review will involve a comprehensive assessment of the advantages, disadvantages and impact of a variety of different charging approaches, including the options of introducing a cap on costs faced by individual and families.
“The whole issue of charging is both complex and extremely sensitive. The ongoing pressures on public funding are well documented and there are many competing demands for investment in health and social care.
“My immediate priorities are to improve the quality and the amount of social care services and to invest in the workforce.
“I am determined to push ahead on those fronts while in parallel examining all options on the future of charging.
“The current system of charging contributes £173.4 million a year to the adult social care system.
“Replacing that system with an alternative approach that is both fair and feasible would be one of the biggest challenges facing the next Executive and Assembly.”
Meanwhile, a family-run healthcare provider, Ann’s, has announced the creation of 300 social care jobs across Northern Ireland over the next 12 months.
The company’s managing director, Ann McQuade, said: “Ann’s are delighted to be working with the Department of Health to help ease the current pressures on the health and social care system.”