COUNCIL chiefs are cutting back meals on wheels services as older people turn to alternative ways to meet their needs.
Sunderland City Council has stressed it is not axing its meals at home services after rumours it was to close, but confirmed it is reducing the provision after a fall in demand.
People eligible for meals delivery services now get cash, allowing them to choose private providers or a charity instead of the council service if they wish.
Neil Revely, director of health, housing and adult Services at the council, said: “We are finding that people often choose very different ways of meeting their needs, and access a variety of different suppliers.
“In relation to a meals service, there has been a greatly reduced demand for the more traditional service delivered by the city council over recent years with an ever-decreasing number of customers using it on a regular basis.
“There will continue to be phased changes to meals services as more people access the growing number of suppliers within the private and voluntary sector across the city, or choose alternative ways to meet their needs.
“Our ongoing commitment is to provide vulnerable people with the level of help and support they need to live independently within their own homes, and any service changes will always reflect that.”
Alan Patchett, director of Age UK Sunderland, said many older people were opting to get their meals delivered by private companies, care homes or nearby cafes – or even getting relatives to buy them Marks and Spencer microwave meals.
“We’re always pushing for people to have more choice, so really it is welcome when they get that,” he said.
Mr Patchett said it was important that if people needed meals delivered to their homes it was important they could still access such a service.
He said it would be unfair to criticise the council for reducing its meals delivery service if demand had dropped, and said he did not believe it was done to cut costs.
Mr Revely added: “In line with a national push to give people much more choice and control over how their individual care needs are met, we will continue the process which has successfully been running for a couple of years in our city, that gives people access to their own individual, personal budget.
“This allows people, with our support when necessary, to get the things they want, delivered by the services they choose, to meet their individual needs.
“This applies to all services, not just in relation to those people who currently access a meals at home service.”