HSE cuts to hit services for the elderly and disabled


Cuts affecting the elderly and the disabled feature strongly in a €130 million cost-reduction package announced by the HSE today.

Some 600,000 home-help hours are being cut, the second time this service has been cut this year, while €10 million will be saved through a reduction in personal assistant hours for the disabled. Another €1.7 million will be saved by reducing 200 monthly home care packages.

Across the HSE, agency staff will be cut by half and overtime by 10 per cent in an effort to eliminate the deficit, which currently stands at €259 million.

Some €6 million will be saved by ending the provision of medical products used by up to 50,000 patients. These include the nutritional supplement glucosamine, an anti-obesity drug Orlistat and Omega-3-Triglycerides, which help manage cholesterol. The HSE says these drugs are less beneficial to patients.

According to the HSE, its deficit would rise to €500 million by year’s end if no action was taken. It said both the Government and the troika had set clearly defined budget targets and that it had a statutory obligation to remain within its €13.2 billion budget this year.

The service said every effort had been made to target areas that did not impact on direct services. “However, it is inevitable that some impact on service delivery will be experienced through the implementation of these measures.”

As part of the cost-saving drive, the HSE plans to save €37 million by running stocks as low as possible for the rest of the year, and €26.5 million by spending less on medical equipment, furniture, education, training, travel and advertising.

Drastic cuts in agency staff and overtime have already been announced in the northeast, but other HSE regions are currently formulating their plans for specific cuts, which should be known next week.

Minister for Health James Reilly is due to present to Cabinet his plans for other cutbacks to stem the deficit next week.

In a statement, the head of the Disability Federation of Ireland expressed shock at the HSE cuts and said they were "of great concern" for those with disabilities and their families.

John Dolan chief executive of the federation, said: “For many people these cuts will mean confinement within their own homes.

"These are dramatic cuts and come on top of cumulative cuts to disability services over the last five years, all of which the sector and the individuals affected have endeavoured to cope with, despite the difficulties presented."

Mr Dolan added: “It is truly ironic that such an announcement is made on the opening day for Ireland’s athletes in the Paralympics.”

The Older & Bolder alliance also condemned the cuts, saying they were "tantamount to turning off the life support machine on services which were already thinly spread".

Director Patricia Conboy said: “We are already failing people who need home and community care services. . . . The cuts fly in the face of long-standing policy and clear commitments in the Programme for Government to develop and invest in home and community care services.

“The consequences will be earlier admissions to nursing homes, longer stays in acute hospitals and anguish for families who need support to care at home for relatives suffering illness, frailty or disability,” she said.

The Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament said it was "angered and saddened" by the HSE move. The organisation said the cuts would affect people and their families who are striving to remain at home and cope with age-related frailties and disabilities.

It called on the HSE and Minister for Heath to "reach further up the tree and tackle some of the ripe fruit nearer the top".

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher accused Mr Reilly of hiding as the cuts were announced. “People across the country are wondering, where is their Minister for Health and who is in charge?” Mr Kelleher said.

“We have heard nothing from him all summer despite a litany of controversies over his mishandling of the health budget," he said, adding: “Minister Reilly made sweeping changes to the HSE so that he could take complete control. But unfortunately services have got worse."

Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the HSE cuts as "savage" and they targeted the most vulnerable in society.

“These cuts represent an attack on vulnerable older people and others who require care in their homes, and on the disabled. It must be remembered that existing home help, home care and personal assistant services are insufficient to meet the need that is out there, yet now they are to be further reduced," the party's health spokesman said.

“It is very clear now that the Fine Gael/Labour Government puts the diktats of the troika before the old and the sick and people with disabilities in Irish society," Mr Ó Caoláin said in a statement.

Siptu said it would "vigorously oppose" what it described as a "callous attempt to make the most vulnerable pay for the failures of an organisation that is unfit for purpose".

In a statement, Siptu organiser Ted Kenny said the HSE move also "flies in the face" of negotiations between the HSE and the union over the issuing of contracts to home helps.