Old people fear meals on wheels threat

Elderly and vulnerable people fear they will be abandoned if council-run meals on wheels are withdrawn, it is claimed.Norfolk County Council is considering pulling out of its meals- on-wheels service, which helps more than 1,000 people.

Elderly and vulnerable people fear they will be abandoned if council-run meals on wheels are withdrawn, it is claimed.

Norfolk County Council is considering pulling out of its meals- on-wheels service, which helps more than 1,000 people. It says change is needed because the meals are so bad and demand is falling.

A review highlights one option as ending the service and encouraging people to use commercial services instead, which might be more expensive.

Another possibility is that the council commissions a commercial service, which elderly people would still order from and pay for themselves but on which County Hall could negotiate a discount.


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Also, it is considering paying for a service which is the same across the county but which might only help those with the greatest need.

But Phil Wells, chief executive of Age Concern Norwich, said: 'We are obviously very concerned. For many people, contact with meals on wheels is the only friendly face they see from week to week. For them the prospect of a change to meals on wheels is almost unanimously unwelcome.

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'They are frightened they will be abandoned.'

The council started a review in September after it found problems with the service, including a lack of choice and a shortage of delivery volunteers. The existing service also covers only half the county.

Fewer and fewer people are using the service, partly because of poor quality and because the cost has shot up to �3.12 a meal.

Last year, 200,000 meals were delivered.

The county council spends more than �1m a year on meals on wheels, although after charges the actual cost to it is �367,000.

Each meal is effectively subsidised by �1.80 and is delivered by a network of volunteers from groups such as Age Concern and the WRVS.

A report going before today's meeting of an adult social services panel says: 'The level and quality of service provided varies greatly, with rural communities worst off… Food is frequently kept warm for several hours prior to consumption. The nutritional quality of food is probably quite low.'

A survey conducted by Age Concern Norwich last year found one recipient was sent meatballs and mashed potatoes five days in a row.

However, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: 'Meals on wheels is an incredibly valuable service for older people, especially in rural areas. It is a link with the outside world for many people who are isolated. It must not be allowed to disappear.'

Mr Wells felt there was not enough evidence from the review to justify the proposals and thought any change would have to be phased in gradually. We know what will happen if they change from one system to another: it will be utter chaos,' he said.

'They don't know whether any alternative provision will be feasible. You cannot just recruit volunteers overnight. They might not be able or willing to carry out the new service.'

Mr Wells said one suggestion from social services - of delivering frozen meals weekly - would not work.

If the council stops providing meals on wheels itself it will reduce the income of the council-run care homes that make them.

Before the review started, James Bullion, assistant director of adult social services, said: 'Norfolk County Council is committed to helping older people remain healthy and indepen-dent at home as long as possible, and providing meals on wheels is often a vital part of that support.'

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