THE “lifeline” Meals on Wheels services which provides dinners to thousands of elderly and disabled people across Scotland is under threat amid concerns over its funding.

Cuts to local authority budgets has forced the Royal Voluntary Service to review its entire national hot meal service.

It is already known before the review is complete that at least five Scottish services are at risk. The review affects the services RVS provides in partnership with seven local authorities in Scotland covering Moray, Inverclyde, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway.

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Argyll and Bute and East Dunbartonshire officials say RVS informed them a decision to withdraw had already been taken in their areas.

The RVS, says the review which covers services across Scotland, England and Wales as some annual contracts with local authority partnerships are due to finish over the next few months.

The charity said that the new review is the result of a ten year trend of local councils withdrawing funding for the services due to budget constraints meaning it has become harder for them to sustain services as much of their "support infrastructure" including training, and volunteer support, has been depleted.

Elderly campaigners have warned that a reduction - or closure - of the Meals on Wheels service would be “seriously detrimental” to the health of thousands of older people, some of whom are at risk of malnutrition.

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Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland said: "Meals on wheels are a real lifeline for those who have difficulty shopping or cooking on their own, or are at risk of malnutrition.

“Not only do they get a hot meal, but the social contact can be invaluable for those who are isolated and living alone. They can even help older people live independently in their own homes for longer.

“Cutting this vital service may deliver short term savings, but could end up with knock-on effects on hospital admissions and demand for health and social care. We would urge local authorities to reconsider funding hot meals for some of their most vulnerable residents.”

The meals and wheels service covering Dumfries and Galloway is one of those that is at risk, with plans to end the service in the region in the autumn, with the loss of three jobs. Some 220 rely on the service, which was originally to finish in March, but got a stay of execution.

The meals on wheels service in East Dunbartonshire is due to end in March, having been in existence for 40 years. East Dunbartonshire Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) insisted that there had been no plans to reduce or change the "limited" funding to the RVS.

"We recognise how important this service is to residents who use it and we are fully engaged with our local voluntary service partners to arrange an alternative service provider to continue delivering Meals on Wheels in East Dunbartonshire," said HSCP chief officer Susan Manion.

"I am hopeful that we will soon reach an agreement and that the service will continue after the RVS withdraws at the end of March."

In Argyll and Bute officials have been told the RVS are withdrawing from the service and the local health and social care partnership said they are "providing information to their clients as to how they can access similar support in the community".

The service in West Dunbartonshire which delivers 142 hot meals a week to 50 vulnerable residents has also been identified as at risk of closure as the contract to supply the service from the local council ends in March.

And South Lanarkshire Council confirmed its current arrangements with RVS are "being reviewed" and will "work with everyone who currently receives a service to identify alternative support".

Ten years ago it was estimated around 20,000 elderly people in Scotland received meals on wheels.

Research from the National Association of Care Catering shows that meals on wheels coverage in Scotland has been slashed from 94 per cent of local authorities in 2014 to just 59 per cent in 2016 with a further dramatic drop expected this year.

Five years ago the RVS ran 83 Meals on Wheels services across Britain, now it says it runs just 15 services across Britain.

Sam Ward, director of commissioned services for the Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Royal Voluntary Service has a long history of providing meals on wheels to older people in in communities across Britain. However, over the past 10 years, fewer services have been commissioned and this has impacted on the flexibility the charity once had.

“We are now reviewing the few services we have across Scotland, England and Wales to determine whether they can continue to operate safely when they have become so isolated from any supporting infrastructure. At this stage, no final decisions have been taken about the future of the service but we continue to place older people’s interests at the heart of it.

"We are continuing to work closely with local authorities as well as relevant agencies and other third sector organisations, to ensure the older people we currently deliver meals to are properly safeguarded and protected.”

NACC which is concerned about the review has now called on government to make the meals on wheels service a statutory protected service.

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NACC chairman Neel Radia fears the continued cuts is putting elderly and disabled people "at risk" and will put "unnecessary further pressure" on the NHS.

He said: "We believe this is an essential service that we cannot afford to lose. Unfortunately without the services being regarded as a statutory requirement, we are seeing them shutting down. "It is all due to underinvestment by government going into local authorities to provide those services.

"Meals on Wheels is more than just a meal. It is actually a vital preventative service. It is helping us to reduce unnecessary malnutrition and malnutrition-related illnesses."

Meals on wheels were first provided during the Second World War and are thought to have been started in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, in 1943 by the Women’s Voluntary Service - now the Royal Voluntary Service.

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The service became a fixture of the post-war welfare state, but was never made a statutory entitlement. Today, councils that do deliver a two-course meal charge a subsidised rate averaging at around £4.

One Scots RVS volunteer Garry Watson has set up a petition signed by nearly 3500 people warning that of the discontinuation of the meals on wheel service and warned that individuals will be expected to travel to a lunch club "as no alternative has been put in place".

He said it was an important service as the elderly are experiencing "well-needed and sought after social contact, as well as a hot meal and a regular check to ensure they are safe and well".

He added: " I am absolutely outraged and very worried for the elderly that use this service as I believe many will genuinely struggle without meals on wheels.

"I believe it is incredibly important to take care of the older generation, making their quality of life better is what made me volunteer in the first place."

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Some local authorities have outsourced meals on wheels provision.

Glasgow City Council's home care organisation Cordia was rolling-out a service last year to deliver hot two-course meals for elderly residents of Glasgow. The service was to run seven days a week, 365 days a year.