A FAILURE to take notice of the far north’s changing demographic 20 years ago has led to care services struggling to cope.
Wick councillor Bill Fernie said the increasing population of elderly people in Caithness during the 1990s was not recognised by NHS Highland or the Highland Council.
He spoke out during the first meeting of the Caithness District Partnership held in Wick on Tuesday.
Area community care manager Bob Silverwood argued there needed to be an urgent review of services for elderly people in the county to cope with current demands.
Mr Fernie responded by saying the problem should have been tackled when money was available and figures showed people in the area were getting older.
"We’ve known for a long time the demographics were moving towards a more elderly population and less younger people within schools," he said.
"At the time we could have afforded to have tackled the situation but, as finances are becoming tighter and at the same time the demographics have proven to be correct, it has had significant impacts on how we spend our money.
"The lack of action has resulted in hospitals, care homes and day centres filling up and members of the care partnership are aware of the situation and that it needs to be addressed.
"It’s taken a long time for people to grasp the nettle as they knew that it was going to mean moving resources and it is a problem that we are still grappling with.
"Now this group is up and running, it is definitely an issue we are going to tackle — despite not being a decision-making body, we hope that our views will have an influence with the health board and Highland Council."
NHS director of north and west Highland Jill McVicar admitted there were not enough services to meet the demands of an aging community, but insisted it is important all demographics are supported.
"What we haven’t been smart enough in doing is investing in helping develop community infrastructure and now we find ourselves where we are at the moment," she said.
"We need to be careful that we strike the right balance in developing children and adult services and invest upstream in early years, which might not be done in schools because of the aging population.
"But we also need to celebrate that the cause of the region’s increasing aging population is due to the excellent standard of care and facilities that is available in the Caithness region, resulting in people living longer.
"Many of them, however, are not living a good quality of life so there is some early intervention work that needs to be focused on in adult care. This is the kind of work as a partnership we need to be looking at."