As I left the nursing home yesterday evening having visited my parents, I spotted a notice in the front hall which left me seething with rage. It seems the HSE has identified another niche market to get it’s grubby hands on, and care for the elderly is about to suffer the same fate as the public health service.
In Ireland, there is a huge shortage of long term care beds and this has placed great strain on support services. Our acute hospitals our filled with elderly patients who are well enough to be discharged but who are unable to live at home without a support structure in place. The government pledged to address this problem by funding better homecare packages and providing extra long stay public beds in the nursing homes. However with the HSE cutbacks, homecare packages were the first to go. The public health nurses are doing a brilliant job but they are severely limited through lack of funding, in the services they can provide to assist old people to remain in their own homes. With Ireland’s ageing demographics, there has been a sequential increase in the number of dementia sufferers and this is placing an increased burden on support structures. As a result, more and more families have to resort to seeking nursing home care for their loved ones in order that they can end their days in comfort and safety.
Now it seems that this safety net is about to be pulled from under their feet. The notice that caught my attention yesterday was in effect, an apology from the management of the nursing home to the staff, residents and their relatives for cutbacks which are due to be implemented shortly by the HSE. Instead of increasing funds to provide for much needed improvements at the nursing home, the HSE now plans to deplete services and I’ve no doubt that this action will be replicated at nursing homes across the country. All development plans have been put on-hold and an embargo has been placed on staff recruitment/replacement and on the renewal of equipment and supplies. One large ward is due to be closed down completely resulting in the loss of a significant number of long stay beds. While these nightingale-style wards are a disgrace as they reflect a bygone institutional age rather than a care setting which is home from home, they should not be closed down without first being replaced by newly designed rooms. This action is very similar to the HSE’s recent closure of various acute care services around the country before any of the promised centres of excellence have been developed. It makes no sense but then what else have we come to expect from the HSE?
So instead of planning and implementing the necessary changes needed to provide for proper and effective care for our older people, this government has opted to target care services for the most vulnerable in our society in order to save their own skins. I’ve no doubt that Mary Harney wants to privatise nursing home care in an effort to wash her hands of responsibility. Our healthcare system is already in total crisis and this imminent depletion of public nursing homes, will only further escalate the problems. It’s a ticking time bomb.