Lack of hospice beds leaves terminal patients out in the cold
Most Irish people would prefer to die at home rather than in hospital, but most aren’t given that choice
Moira O’Hara with her dog, Maisie, at home with a photograph of her late husband, Martin, in Co Wicklow.Photograph:Cyril Byrne
‘When I needed somebody, there was nobody there.”
This was how Wicklow woman Moira O’Hara felt as she struggled to meet the ever increasing nursing needs of her husband, Martin, who passed away last year.
Moira says Martin had a lifelong aversion to hospitals and when he was diagnosed with cancer had to endure long uncomfortable car journeys from their home in Wicklow to Dublin for treatment.
As his condition worsened the journeys increasingly took their toll on both of them.
“The only thing he stipulated . . . was that he would love to die at home,” Moira says.
“He was a great nature lover . . . he just loved to sit outside and watch the wildlife . . . he said, ‘if I can die here I will be happy enough’.
About a month before he died, Martin suffered a stroke, which made caring for him even more difficult.
“He was always worried about the strain for me having to do everything for him, especially after he had the stroke. I literally had to do everything for him, I am not exactly young myself.”
Yet apart from some support from the community nursing team, Moira was Martin’s main carer and she remained dedicated to her husband who by then was totally reliant on her for his every need.
This included caring for him throughout the night and seeing to all his personal hygiene needs.
Moira says she discussed inpatient hospice care with her husband. However, the nearest one was in Dublin – which would have made visiting arduous. Therefore, it was decided that she would continue to nurse him at home, which was at times very difficult.
According to Moira, if there had been a hospice nearer to home “things would have been so different” as it would have offered the possibility of respite care.
“There were times when I had had enough . . . I was very tired – I wasn’t sleeping, obviously – and I have my own health problems as well.
“There were just times when I used to say to Martin ‘I wish there was more I could do, and I am doing my best’ . . . if I could have got respite in a local hospice that would have been marvellous and would have been close enough for me to visit whenever I wanted.”
Sadly, Moira is not alone. A recent report from the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) found that a lack of equity of access to inpatient hospice beds across the State means that approximately 2,470 patients are denied access to hospice beds every year.
Lack of beds
More than a decade ago a report from the National Advisory Committee on Palliative Care recommended that there should be one hospice bed per 10,000 of the population.