26 June 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The very worthy motion moved by Seamus Coyle at Monday’s Annual Meeting of Monaghan Co Council, seeking the restoration of hours cut from the home help service by the current Government since taking office, casts damning light on one of the most indefensible, and nonsensical, of the many strictures imposed on Irish health provision in the names of rectitude and reform.

The incremental curtailment of the availability of home care support for the sick and elderly has been well illuminated by our local and national political representatives before – sufficiently so, one would think, to prompt if not shame the Dept of Health and the HSE into taking the necessary corrective action.

But a situation that is the cause of extreme distress for many families in our circulation area and throughout the country has been let go unaddressed, and in the contributions made by our councillors to the debate on Colr Coyle’s proposal was evident a puzzled disbelief that it should still be so.

We are sure our readers, particularly those who have had cause to be grateful to the availability of home help services and cause to be outraged at the limitations increasingly imposed on them in recent years, will share in the outrage and bewilderment of their elected men and women.

The case to be made against the continuance of these cuts on humanitarian grounds is compelling. But when the argument for compassion is reinforced by the logic of fiscal common sense, and it still goes ignored, something is very wrong with the functioning of health care delivery.

As our councillors argued, providing people with the care necessary for them to be looked after in their own homes saves the State an immense amount of money that would be otherwise expended in hospital and nursing home costs. Monaghan Co Council in particular can lend a strong moral force to its argument given that it is one of the most efficient and dedicated local authorities in the country in the delivery of the various housing adaptation grant schemes that also serve this end, allowing homes to be renovated and equipped so that elderly and infirm persons can continue to reside and be cared for in their domestic environment.

Even in the difficult budgetary circumstances that have confronted them in recent times, the Council have maintained this grant provision, supplementing Dept money with their own resources and delivering the schemes with sufficient expediency to allow them to obtain additional annual subvention.

Our local authority puts a great deal of effort and planning into this area of their functioning because they are acutely aware not alone of the considerable social dividend it delivers, but also of the contribution it is making to easing the pressure on beds in acute hospital departments and nursing homes.

Sadly such altruistic and financially sound thinking does not seem to animate policy implementation at national health administration level. The train of thought discernible there with regard to home care provision is instead distinguished by a brutal cynicism.

Those who provide home help, be they related to the recipient or a skilled and caring individual from the recipient’s community, do not do so with the primary motivation of gain – which is just as well, since their role is insultingly poorly remunerated. They do so because, simply put, they care – and the devotion to duty this instinct compels is being presumed upon ruthlessly by government and officialdom, well knowing that carers will not only do their duty but in many cases go well beyond it, thereby supplying out of decency and humanity, and the bond that builds between them and the recipient, much of the deficit that cuts in this area threaten to deliver.

But even though those in the caring role mitigate, without reward or approval, some of the harshness of the cutbacks, their adverse impact is not totally cushioned. Families are put to additional personal expense, care recipients already aged or ill are subjected to anxiety and stress, and the hospital and nursing home system is burdened with additional pressure from the increasing number of situations where domestic care becomes no longer viable.

When a government and a health system fail to recognise such an obvious example of where relatively small additional investment would accrue considerable savings and advantage, one must suspect an alternative agenda – and in this case it is the baleful one of privatisation.

While, as Fine Gael councillor David Maxwell rightly pointed out on Monday, home help cuts extend back beyond the lifetime of the current administration, arresting this trend is very much the present Government’s baby – particularly as they promised its reversal in their Programme for Government.

In their early years in office, the Coalition could with some justification cite exigent budgetary realities for continuing the cuts of their predecessors. But, with a General Election peaking out from behind an approaching corner, they are making much at the moment of recovery – and if recovery is to mean anything, surely the aged and infirm members of our society deserve to be among the first to taste its fruits.

In this context, Colr Coyle’s motion, far from being an empty reiteration of previously voiced grievance, seems particularly timely.

How the Government and the HSE respond to it will determine whether our titular “Who Cares?” query is a question they are prepared to answer compassionately – or whether it stands as the encapsulation of an indifferent attitude that places the interests of privatisation above those of sick and elderly Irish people.


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