Watchdog calls for U-turn on scrapping of bereavement grant

Committee urges free healthcare and private rooms for dying after audit of end-of-life care

The report comes weeks after Ombudsman Peter Tyndall revealed shortcomings in care of the dying through a study of complaints made to his office. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/Bloomberg

The report comes weeks after Ombudsman Peter Tyndall revealed shortcomings in care of the dying through a study of complaints made to his office. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/Bloomberg

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 14:49

A Government-led parliamentary watchdog has called for a U-turn on the controversial scrapping of the bereavement grant.

The Coalition-dominated committee has also urged free healthcare and private hospital rooms for the dying after its investigation into end-of-life care in Ireland.

In a two-volume report, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children calls on the Cabinet to halt any further cutbacks to palliative care to prevent undermining existing services.

The watchdog - made up of TDs and senators, with a majority from Fine Gael and Labour - held hearings over two months last year taking evidence from hospices, hospitals and health workers about the standard of care for the dying.

Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the committee, said Ireland ranks well internationally in quality of death league tables, but there are shortcomings.

“Evidence presented to the joint committee at its hearings on this issue suggests that significant deficiencies exist in the provision of end-of-life and palliative care in Ireland, in particular inequalities based solely on geographic location,” he said.

About 29,000 people die in Ireland every year, leaving up to 290,000 families bereaved.

As well as the obvious human cost, it is estimated the mostly unplanned deaths account for up to €1.3 billion of the health budget.

The parliamentary committee said this money should at least be spent in a more planned and focused way.

It called for a national strategy on palliative care, end of life and bereavement which would force all hospitals to draw up plans for looking after the dying and their loved ones.

Private rooms for patients who are dying must be a priority, the report states.

Last month, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall flagged cases where families were forced to openly grieve in busy hospital wards because there were no private rooms available.

The parliamentary committee also called on the Government to consider - on the basis of evidence at the hearings - a review of “its decision to abolish the bereavement grant”.

As part of austerity measures, the Government last year scrapped the grant, which was worth €850 to families struggling to cover unexpected funeral costs.

The report also called for consideration of the automatic granting of medical cards to those who are dying.

Other measures demanded included opening of more hospice beds at St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown, Dublin; Marymount Hospice, Cork; and the reopening of beds at Milford Care Centre in Limerick.

The report said there was an urgent need to fix differing standards in palliative care throughout the country. It highlighted the midlands, the northeast and southeast particularly as needing investment in services.

Furthermore, the parliamentary committee said the Government should think about giving more public money to charities who look after the dying, including the Laura Lynn Ireland’s Children’s Hospice and the Jack & Jill Foundation.

The report comes weeks after Ombudsman Mr Tyndall revealed shortcomings in care of the dying through a study of complaints made to his office.

Poor communication, overburdened staff and lack of proper facilities were common among issues he investigated which were raised by relatives discussing the recently deceased.

He added at the time that they were no excuse for families being treated poorly and insensitively.

Press Association