noun_195366_ccIn an example of the negative ef­fects of putting costs before ser­vices, the Southern DHB Meals on Wheels service has hit some serious snags. Within the first few weeks since changing the way the meals are prepared, its clients are seeking other services, with the Otago Daily Times reporting that a quarter of recipients have cancelled in the month since the new service began.

In an effort to save costs (about $7 million over the next 15 years) the service from catering company Compass Health now trucks down frozen meals from Auckland and Hamilton to be reheated and deliv­ered to both the Meals on Wheels cli­ents and Southland Hospital patients. The result has been reports of ined­ible meals or, in the least, inconsist­encies in the quality of food.

While it seems that many of those cancelling the DHB service are turn­ing to other providers such as the St Barnabas Trust, who provide an alter­native meal delivery service, there is concern that some people may not be eating properly or cannot afford the more expensive alternatives meals. While it is wonderful that there are others options to turn to – what if there hadn’t been an alternative?

The older people in our commu­nities are particularly vulnerable to illness and having access to healthy and nutritious meals is an essential factor in their daily lives. The Meals on Wheels service helps people to live more independently in the com­munity and lessens the chances of them needing higher level care or ending up in hospital.

Has the DHB been too short-sighted in only looking at the cost of this service without considering the knock-on consequences for our com­munities? Is this another example of vulnerable older people on mod­est incomes ending up bearing the cost as DHBs trying to balance their budgets? Will this simply backfire on the DHB as other areas of health (acute hospital wards, aged residen­tial care, GPs and primary care) have to respond to those people becoming unwell?